Online Collaborative Learning

As an elementary and middle school student my teachers for group work and projects always put me with “the boys’. I can honestly say that I did not work with another girl or someone at my level ever except for maybe one time. I remember one project that I was paired with a girl, but she had learning difficulties, but at least she did her part of the work. The boys I was forced to work with usually did not do their part and I was there to cover up the fact they did not care about learning. The teachers probably hoped I would rub of on them. This made me despise group work and projects. Eventually I became so fed up with the structure of my education I decided to be homeschooled and take control of my education so that it would be fun again. I have since then become a fan of group discussions, cooperative learning, and collaboration. This is what drew me to Ku, Tseng, and Akarasriworn (2013) article, Collaboration Factors, Teamwork Satisfaction, and Student Attitudes Toward Online Collaborative Learning. Ku, Tseng, and Akarasriworn (2013) use Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development to demonstrate “…that a learner cannot achieve an understanding of a new idea or concept unless he/she acquires help or feedback from a teacher or a peer (Vygotsky, 1978). In Vygotsky’s view, peer interaction is an important way to facilitate individual cognitive growth and knowledge acquisition, and the peer collaboration can help learners in problem solving’ (p. 922). Vygotsky’s social development and learning theory illustrates that the teaching and learning practice of collaboration is important to the social aspect of the nature of learning.

The purpose of Ku, Tseng, and Akarasriworn (2013) study was “…to extend Tseng et al.’s (2009) prior research by collecting a much larger sample size to examine the degree of relationship between teamwork satisfaction and online collaboration factors. In addition, students’ attitudes toward online collaborative learning experiences were also investigated.’ (p. 923). Data was collected over three consecutive years for an online instructional design course. There were 197 participants all graduate students most majoring in educational technology or school library education; 70% were female and 30% were male. Below are the research questions explored.

  • What are the factors that underlie online collaborative learning components as measured by the student attitude survey?
  • Is teamwork satisfaction related to the extracted online collaboration factors?
  • How much of the variance in teamwork satisfaction can be explained by the extracted online collaboration factors?
  • What are student attitudes toward working collaboratively in an online setting?

Collaboration is usually a highly beneficial teaching and learning practice, but it comes with some frustration. The online learning environment and the Internet in general offers many modes for collaboration. No matter what, communication is key to successful collaboration. The online instructional design class that was surveyed with Likert scale by Ku, Tseng, and Akarasriworn (2013) was conducted through Blackboard and it appears most of the communication by students and instructor was done through it too. In my own experience as a student who has used Blackboard it can be a blessing and a curse. I would find it limiting as a student if Blackboard was the only communication tool I could use. But I understand why it makes the study more reliable and fewer variables are introduced with the class being contained within Blackboard. I wonder though if the students were allowed to freely use other collaboration Internet sources if the other 40% would have like online collaboration better. One student wrote:

I find working collaboratively online much more difficult than in real life. I believe that collaboration is preferable when I can meet face-to-face. I prefer to be given assignments and just get the work done on my own in online classes, because it is so much less cumbersome. Trying to communicate with all members in a timely fashion is extra work, and if you have a weak member of a team, you feel both angry and responsible, because it feels like you have to include that person (responsible) but if they do not do the work you feel angry that you have to work so hard to include them. (p. 927)

While this student found collaboration online difficult other students found it improved their communication skills, broaden their ideas and perspective, and the final product turned out better than it would have than if it were created individually. In fact 73% stated they learned more as a collaborative group than they would have individually (Ku, Tseng, & Akarasriworn 2013). Ku, Tseng, and Akarasriworn (2013) found that the three factors that made the online collaborative learning environment successful were team dynamics, team acquaintance, and instructor support. These three factors all contributed to teamwork satisfaction.

I thought it was interesting that team acquaintances were one of the major factors in calculating the success and satisfaction with online collaboration. I have always dreading the getting to know you part of a face-to-face or online course, probably because I am an introvert. I never really considered how important this could be for the success of an online course. It is something I have been taking for granted. In order to collaborate effectively you need to have some kind of working relationship. It is ironic in a way because I always do community building activities with K-12 students and make sure they get to know me too. I guess it should not be any different for higher education.

One final aspect of the study that was interesting was the fact that 70% of the participants were female. Ideally the study would have had a 50/50 split. The results were very positive and I wonder if it was due to the majority of the participants being women. I am curious which gender had more negative comments or if it was even. Due to this variable and the positive results associated with it the study needs to be replicated again or a study with mostly men needs to be done to compare. It also would have been nice to know the cultural make up of the participants too. Culture and gender have always had an impact on the learning environment, but I never considered that one gender or culture would be more drawn to the online learning environment than another. Are women more likely to engage in online learning and online collaboration? How does culture affect online collaboration? Does it work better when there is a mix of cultures or when the group is homogeneous?

References

Ku, H., Tseng, H., & Akarasriworn, C. (2013). Collaboration factors, teamwork satisfaction, and student attitudes toward online collaborative learning. Computers In Human Behavior, 29(3), 922-929. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2012.12.019

2 thoughts on “Online Collaborative Learning

  1. amattacchione

    I find the subject of gender in learning interesting. I do agree that there seems to be some degree programs that are not well blended gender wise. It makes sense. Cultural influences and stereotyping and potential income are a factor when students consider degree options. For example: when I went to college for my undergraduate degrees, it was unusual to see males in the nursing degrees. Nurses were female right? Males became Doctors. Since educating the public on the role of nursing and it’s relationship to gender, males have entered the field of nursing and it is more likely when visiting the Doctor, he will be a nurse and she will be a doctor. Since male and female brains are different, it makes a lot of sense they would prefer different ways of learning and subject matter. I think the issue of gender and learning is an important one. It would be interesting to see if the result vary considerably.

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  2. Owen

    Hi Kelly, interesting article and you raise many good questions. I don’t think there’s much question about whether or not there are gender differences in learning. What those differences are, however, remains to be really understood. There are very strong differences in games for instance. Women are much more dramatically attracted to games like Candy Crush, and Bejeweled. These feature solid scaffolding infrastructure and their attractiveness is heavily related to behaviorist learning theory. What does that mean? I have no idea – but I agree that it is a very rich subject with lots of room for inquiry.
    Also, I’d say that there are significant socioeconomic issues related to elearning cohort construction. Certain demographics are more likely than others to seek such opportunities. I too have a growing interest in the economics of online learning. Very interesting subjects.

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