JALN Volume 5, Issue 1 - February 2001
learning environments because the interactions among students are mediated, there is an absence of
non-verbal cues, and text-on-screen is a very limited mode for what should be semantically rich
exchanges. In this study we sought evidence of good quality interactions among students who are not
present in the one physical site from data obtained from students' online exchanges. Our focus was on
the extent and depth of on-task activity (numbers of contributions and the 'depth' of those
contributions), social chat, extent of collaboration, possible gender influences, mutual explanations
(seeking clarification and providing information to peers), and regulatory behaviors (encouraging
effort and monitoring peers' efforts and contributions).
A. Previous research
One way to implement high levels of interaction among students, and thereby to increase both the
quality of students' learning experiences and the efficiency of delivery, is to implement collaborative
learning. Much previous work on collaborative learning has focused on face-to-face situations, while
in this study, the focus is on collaboration in an online learning environment. Online interactions
differ in quite important ways from face-to-face discussion. Online interactions lack the non-verbal
cues that are a component of face-to-face contact, and this may reduce the extent of the
communication that occurs. Much online conversation occurs asynchronously, with substantial delays
in receiving a reply. This may have both advantages and disadvantages for the participants. The lack
of spontaneity associated with a seminar group gathered around the one table may be offset by the
possibility of having greater time for reflection and generation of a considered response.
B. Collaborative learning
Dillenbourg and Schneider (1995) make a distinction between cooperative and collaborative learning.
They indicate that cooperative learning is “… a protocol in which the task is in advance split into sub-
tasks that the partners solve independently”. Collaborative learning describes situations “… in which
two or more subjects build synchronously and interactively a joint solution to some problem”. This
distinction places greater emphasis on the extent and quality of the exchanges that occur within
groups of students in collaborative environments. With cooperative tasks, participants could agree on
the elements of the task and distribute those across group members who would work independently
until each has completed her/his component. The separate components could then be assembled to
produce the final product. It is clear that some authors, e.g. Johnson & Johnson (1996) use the term
cooperative learning to describe the higher level processes that Dillenbourg & Schneider would label
collaborative. Clearly, an important component of collaboration is the discussion that occurs during
task engagement, since the cognitive benefits that are claimed for collaborative learning (Pressley &
McCormick, 1995) must be mediated by the verbal exchanges among learners. Verdejo (1996)
emphasizes this theme, basing collaborative learning on a “conversation or dialogue paradigm”. Henri
and Rigault (1996), in addition to the shared approach to tasks and student interdependence, also refer
to greater student autonomy in distinguishing collaborative from cooperative learning.
In reciprocal teaching (Brown & Palincsar, 1989) interactions among students have been shown to
exert positive influences on students' learning. Reciprocal teaching is a form of collaboration and
there is evidence that in the discourse in which learners articulate and share their understandings, there
is potential for sharing the cognitive load of the learning task (Dillenbourg & Schneider, 1995), for
greater on-task engagement (Cavalier, Klein, & Cavalier, 1995), and for greater mutual explanations
(Cavalier et al., 1995).
Johnson & Johnson (1996) provide a sound theoretical basis for collaborative learning arguing that it
has been described in terms of cognitive developmental theories, especially from a Vygotskian
perspective; from behavioral learning approaches; and on the basis of social interdependence theory.
Collaboration in a seminar does allow for scaffolding of thinking for student and provides immediacy
of feedback. The behaviors that characterize positive social interdependence include giving and
receiving help, exchanging resources and information, giving and receiving feedback, challenging and
encouraging each other, and jointly reflecting on progress and process. Positive social
interdependence is contrasted with individualistic and competitive work environments. Where people
work in relationships in which each individual depends upon others within the group, that is where
reciprocal dependencies exist, they achieve more individually, they make greater effort to achieve,
they experience greater social support, and they report feelings of greater self esteem than they do in
JALN Volume 5, Issue 1 - February 2001
competitive and individualistic settings (Johnson & Johnson, 1996). Johnson and Johnson (1996) also
note that the effect sizes, for the dependent variables just listed, favor collaborative approaches even
more when the task is more complex and involves greater problem-solving and creativity.
Could such benefits be associated with collaborative learning that was not face-to-face? In
commenting on technology assisted collaborative learning (TACL) Johnson & Johnson (1996) note
that "conceptual models of how technology and teamwork may be productively integrated are
practically nonexistent" (p. 1038) so that there are few guidelines to direct the efforts of teachers who
might like to implement TACL. Levin (1995) supports this view, but does provide a framework for
organizing network-based learning environments as a first step towards the development of a theory
of online interactive learning. Indeed, since the Johnson &Johnson (1996) paper, substantial work on
collaboration in online environments has continued. Both Verdejo (1996) and Henri and Rigault
(1996) add to the emergence of theory. They take a conversational approach to understanding the role
of computer conferencing in supporting online collaborative learning, but also draw attention to the
components of discussion moderation and management. Gunawardena, Lowe, & Anderson
(Gunawardena, Lowe, & Anderson, 1997) analyzed the content of an online debate to identify
elements of knowledge construction among participants, but in doing so, also sought evidence of
collaboration among participants as a component of the knowledge construction process. Hiltz (Hiltz,
1998) has demonstrated that collaborative learning can lead to learning outcomes comparable with
those achieved in face-to-face classes. Harasim et al. (1995) provide extensive guidelines to initiate,
sustain, and manage online discussion. These sources, and the authors’ experience in online teaching,
were used to generate sets of guidelines, for both online interaction and for collaborative work, that
were distributed to students at the beginning of the course.1
C. Types and roles of interaction
In a seminar room effective interaction needs to be managed in order to help students to generate deep
understanding. Moore (1993) asserts that this management involves three key types of learning
interaction: interaction with resources; with teachers; and with peers. The quality of each of these
types of interaction is of concern in both face-to-face and online environments. In the latter, Hansen
(1996) reminds us that a new element of interaction is introduced – the interaction of both the teacher
and the learner with an interface.
Interaction with good quality resources in an online environment is often not a major difficulty.
Although distance education may be associated with a restricted set of learning resources the new
technologies are reducing this problem for both lecturers and students. Indeed even for on-campus
students an increasing proportion of the resources they access are online.
In on-campus study students have access to interactions with academic teachers in seminars and in
individual consultations. In online teaching such interaction is available, though it is mediated through
some form of CIT. The one-to-many interaction of the lecture and seminar that comprises most of the
student-teacher interaction for the many students who do not seek individual consultations with their
teachers, is often replaced by one-on-one interaction via CIT. However, for the lecturer this
interaction occurs at the expense of efficiency because mediated one-on-one interactions, such as
email interchanges, are easily initiated by the students and can be very time-consuming.
Interactions among students in the online situation may be more problematic. Laurillard (1993, 99-
105), in developing a principled analysis of media use in higher education, provides a detailed model
of high quality teacher-student interaction, a model based on a staged, iterative dialogic structure for
the interactions between teacher and student. Encouraging such high quality interactions among
students may achieve both quality and efficiency goals, but do they occur? We wanted to examine
whether the richness of the interactions described by Laurillard was present in online student-student
Paulsen (1995a) describes alternative ways of implementing Moore’s (1993) three types of interaction
in online environments, alternatives that should encourage more effective student-student interaction.
For that purpose he lists options such as symposia, debates, role plays, case studies, discussion
1 Copies of these guidelines are available from the David Curtis.
JALN Volume 5, Issue 1 - February 2001
groups, brainstorming, and project groups. Following Paulsen, the task set for the participants in this
study required groups to act as consultants to educational and training organizations (with which they
were all very familiar) and to make recommendations on ways in which CIT could be used to achieve
the organizations’ goals while maintaining quality in service delivery. This task had elements of role
play, case study, and project group approaches.
D. Computer-mediated communication
Over recent years much attention has been paid to the use of computer-mediated communication
(CMC) in learning, and especially in distance education (e.g., Daniel, 1995; Ellsworth, 1995; Grint,
1992; Harasim et al., 1995; Hesketh, Gosper, Andrews, & Sabaz, 1996; Paulsen, 1995b; Szabo, 1995).
Definitions of CMC vary but virtually all observers include email, chat, and computer conferencing
while most also include access to information, e.g. the use of online databases. With the convergence
of communication and information technologies, it is now common to find references to desktop
video-conferencing as a CMC application. Indeed the term computer conferencing is used in different
ways: those who come to it from the perspective of email and bulletin boards use the term to refer to
asynchronous structured text based interactions, while those who have been involved in video-
conferencing refer to synchronous interactions that may include video, audio, and document sharing,
but that do include real time text interactions.
The major focus of this study is on asynchronous interaction, the form of interaction that is most
common in current online courses. In this discussion computer conferencing refers to the use of a
web-based application that enables participants to create and edit messages that are stored in an area
that is accessible to group members and that organizes messages into ‘threads’ of conversations.
It was our intention to use an email discussion list for part of the topic, during which time students
introduced themselves, and to use the computer conferencing component of Blackboard Classroom
for that part of the topic that was to be the main focus of this investigation of online collaborative
learning. However, as reported in the results, the students spontaneously demonstrated a need also to
use synchronous communication.
Thus it has been the purpose of this research to examine the nature of the interactions among students
working in small collaborative groups in terms of collaborative learning behaviors and the constraints
and affordances of the medium. Such an examination should provide better estimates than are
currently available of the effect of online study environments on the quality of interactions among
II. RESEARCH QUESTIONS
As Johnson and Johnson (1996) point out, there is a very strong theoretical basis for collaborative
learning, but much of that body of theory is derived from studies of face-to-face interactions among
learners. The major question of interest here is: "To what extent can the components of collaborative
learning be identified in the online interactions of students placed in collaborative learning groups?"
Students who choose to learn in online situations do so because of distance from the institution
offering their chosen course, work commitments, or family commitments. They require flexibility in
their study arrangements, and online learning is one way of participating in their chosen courses. This
flexibility exists in that students may study where and when they choose. In general, while learning in
an online environment, students' interactions are restricted to text only messages on screen. This
medium of interaction may inhibit the degree of collaboration that is possible by limiting the extent
and depth of interactions. However, since this online interaction is much more than most students
would normally experience in a distance learning course, they may perceive that the experience
enhances the interactions available to them. This leads to a subsidiary question: "To what extent does
the text-only online environment inhibit or enhance the collaboration that occurs within small project-
A. Participants and procedures
Twenty four students (18 women and 6 men) undertaking either a Bachelor of Education in Adult
Education or a Graduate Diploma in Adult and Further Education who were enrolled in an existing
online course Internet and Education during semester 2, 1998 were involved in the study. Five
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JALN Volume 5, Issue 1 - February 2001
students withdrew from the course during the semester. All participants were mature age students and
most worked either in the Technical and Further Education (TAFE) or Vocational Education and
Training (VET) sectors or were employed in training roles in enterprises. While most students were
located in Adelaide (South Australia), ten lived outside the metropolitan area, including five from
interstate. Clearly, for many students, face-to-face meetings were not feasible. All used email and the
web comfortably, although there was variation in their skill levels.
Within this course, students undertook three assigned tasks. Prior to the assignments, all students were
required to subscribe to an email discussion list that had been established for the course and to
participate in a ‘get to know you activity’ in which each posted an introduction and responded to
The first assignment was a cooperative activity in which students selected a topic for investigation.
They reported to the class as a whole on their investigation in stages and received feedback from their
peers as they reported. This interaction occurred via the class email discussion list. The second, and
major, activity required students to work collaboratively in small groups to develop a set of
recommendations for the implementation of internet based communications services and information
resources in an education or training program. Each group produced a single composite group report.
Guidelines for their interaction were provided in the learning resources for the topic and were further
explained in discussion with all students via the class email discussion list. The final task, an
individual one, was the development of a learning resource using one of the services that was
investigated as part of the collaborative activity. Online interactions for the first two assignments were
a compulsory component of the course and formed part of the assessment for it. Of the 19 participants
who completed the course, only 13 students worked in groups. Those who elected not to participate in
group work either experienced illness or had unusual work requirements.
The primary data source was the log of interactions that occurred among groups of students on their
collaborative projects. Most collaboration occurred using the Blackboard Classroom program,
although as discussed later, students also used the telephone and fax to communicate with each other.
Blackboard Classroom is a web-based application that facilitates: the provision of course information;
the distribution of learning resources; communication between teachers and students and among
students, both as a whole class and in separate discussion forums; file sharing; and online assessment
and feedback. For this study, communication services for small groups of students were the main
means of interaction and the main focus of investigation.
Groups of students were self selected. An email message describing the purposes and processes of the
task, with suggestions for group tasks, was circulated to all students. Students were invited to respond,
nominating topics, and other students then replied, electing to join particular groups. Group size
varied from 2 to 4. No attempt was made to control group composition on either a gender or prior
Each group in the investigation was regarded as a case and the focus of the analysis was the online
discussions that were recorded for the group. Online exchanges were email messages that were
circulated among group members and the messages that were posted to the group's private discussion
board. The first author, who was also the academic teacher for this topic, was a member of each group
forum in order to fulfill a mentoring role. The intention was that the bulk of the communication would
occur via the discussion board. However the design of the interface was such that an option to send an
email message to the group was more readily available (i.e. fewer mouse clicks from the entry point)
and it seems that students preferred to use email.
Students were able to contact each other outside the group forum by personal email, fax, or by
telephone. There is evidence that some exchanges between students did occur via private email
messages, fax, and face-to-face meetings. From discussions with individual students this seems likely
to occur when one student disagrees with the contribution of another: rather than express
disagreement 'publicly' through the class discussion list or conference forum, critical comments were
offered privately. Indeed this approach had been advocated in guidelines provided to students because
online, text-only interactions can lead to misunderstandings due to the limited information capacity of
the medium compared with the relative richness of the vocal and non-verbal interactions of face-to-
face learning environments. Further, several of the groups organized synchronous chat sessions to
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JALN Volume 5, Issue 1 - February 2001
supplement the other forms of communication, and because of the software being used, it was not
possible to capture those interactions. For these reasons, the researcher was not able to access all
interactions among students and those interactions recorded may include a bias towards positive and
B. Research methods
The study was exploratory and attempted to identify elements of face-to-face modes of collaboration
in the online environment. These behaviors are enumerated in the data analysis section below. The
extent to which text-on-screen as the dominant medium of exchange limits (or possibly enhances)
collaborative behaviors was investigated, but since a comparative method was not used, only tentative
conclusions based upon claims in the literature (e.g. Harasim et al., 1995) about the benefits and
disadvantages of this medium of interaction are offered.
The number and content of text contributions made by group members in their online interactions via
email messages and postings to the group discussion board were analyzed seeking utterances that
were indicative of the behaviors that are reported for other forms of collaborative learning. Student
evaluations of the topic were also a source of information for this study. Johnson & Johnson (1996)
list the following major types of behaviors in collaborative learning situations:
• giving and receiving help and assistance;
• exchanging resources and information;
• explaining elaborating information;
• sharing existing knowledge with others;
• giving and receiving feedback;
• challenging others' contributions (cognitive conflict and controversy leading to negotiation
• advocating increased effort and perseverance among peers;
• engaging in small group skills;
• monitoring each others' efforts and contributions.
Other behaviors, such as organizing group work, initiating further interactions, and commenting or
reflecting on the medium were also anticipated. Other utterances are also anticipated. For example,
Cook (1997) and Bonk et al. (1998) identified both repetitive and social elements in students'
interactions at the expense of task-related exchanges in courses in which online interactions were an
optional supplemental form of interaction to the dominant face-to-face interactions. A coding scheme
for utterances that indicate the above listed behaviors was developed and applied to the records of
interaction that occur in the email exchanges and discussion forums. A number of coding schemes
have been trialed by others. For example, in their analyses of an online debate, (Gunawardena et al.,
1997) developed a scheme grounded in the debate that they studied. They were critical of other
schemes, e.g. those of Levin and of Henri (cited in (Gunawardena et al., 1997)), but also commented
upon the limitations of the debate as a vehicle for knowledge construction, and by implication,
collaboration, which may suggest that different purposes of investigation may require different
schemes of analysis. Since our primary concern was the identification of the classical elements of
collaboration in an online environment, we based out scheme largely upon the components of
collaborative behavior described by Johnson & Johnson (Johnson & Johnson, 1996).
Three sources of data were available to answer the two research questions posed. For each group,
information on the number and form of interactions was collected, although as indicated earlier,
information on private email messages, fax transmissions, and chat exchanges was not available. For
each group, the content of email messages and postings to the discussion board was collected and
analyzed. Only student messages, and not those contributed by staff, were analyzed. All students were
asked to complete a voluntary and anonymous subject evaluation form. In particular, students' views
about the collaborative component of the course and about the software that was used were sought.
Analyses of these data are presented below.
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A. Summary of online interactions
Students worked in five groups, although Group 5 comprised the six people who elected to work
alone. A group area was established for these students and they were invited to use it to keep in touch.
This group was relatively inactive and only three members made any contributions. The forms of
interaction that are recorded in Table 1 are: email messages, postings to the group discussion board,
and file up-loads. Although there is anecdotal evidence for chat sessions, telephone calls, faxes, and
face-to-face visits, they could not be tracked and so are not recorded in the table.
Although students were encouraged to use the group discussion board, most of the recorded
communication occurred via group email messages. It appears that students were more familiar with
email and were more comfortable using it than using the discussion board. The design of the interface
also enabled an email message to be sent to the group three mouse clicks from entering the course
home page. Getting into the discussion board required four clicks, and then reading a message and
replying to it required at least two further clicks, but could have required many more depending upon
the location of the message within a thread. Several students did however comment favorably on the
structure of the discussion board messages indicating that it was very easy to navigate through earlier
discussions to find out “where the discussion was going” rather than try to sort through volumes of
email that were mixed with other work related email messages.
In the five groups, there were 198 email messages, 24 postings to a discussion board, and 10 file up-
loads. There was a wide range in the frequency of interactions across the groups, from 16 to 160, the
median number of interactions being 90. Within each group there was also variation in the pattern of
contributions. In Groups 1 and 5 there was a relatively even pattern of contribution, though Group 5
was the least active group. In each of the other groups the pattern of contribution was quite uneven,
with some students emerging as dominant contributors. In Group 4, the individual who contributed
the least effectively withdrew and decided to submit an individual paper.
Those students who contributed more are likely to have been 'natural leaders' within the groups. In
Group 2 two forms of leadership were in evidence: one student made many contributions that were
classified as organizing group work and initiating activities while another made a greater proportion
of contributions that were classed as giving help and feedback. Other factors likely to influence the
extent of contribution are the availability of time and interest in the topic.
Table 1: Summary of online interactions
Only Group 2 began to make effective use of the structure available through the discussion board. The
structure of their messages is shown in Figure 1. The earliest discussions to occur within the group
were conducted via email while they negotiated the topic. They then began to use the discussion board
and to up-load files, but during the final stages of submitting drafts and sending and receiving
comments, reverted to group email. It seems that students were more comfortable in attaching
documents to email messages than in up-loading files to the group area.
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B. The analysis of text
The principal hypothesis of this study is that the behaviors associated with collaborative learning
activities can be identified in the online interactions of students. The contributions made by group
members, either as email messages or as postings to the group discussion board, were analyzed for
utterances indicative of the behaviors identified earlier as a result of the Johnson & Johnson (1996)
work. In addition, other behaviors including social interactions, organization of group work, initiation
of activities, and reflections on the medium were sought. Descriptions of the utterances that were
coded as being indicative of the behaviors just described and the codes that have been used for them
are shown in an Appendix. The coded behaviors were further grouped within the higher-level
categories of Planning, Contributing, Seeking Input, Reflection and Monitoring, and Social
Interaction, to reflect more general aspects of students' online interactions.
IV. EVIDENCE FOR COLLABORATION
IN ONLINE INTERACTIONS
Data derived from this analysis of the postings of students in Group 2 of this study are summarized in
Table 2. The data for Group 2 have been used in this analysis because that group had the highest
frequency of contributions.
The analysis of the utterances of group members indicates approximately equal proportions of the
general behaviors of planning, contributing, and seeking input. How this balance compares with face-
to-face collaborative learning situations is unclear, and whether such behaviors can be expected in the
online environment in similar proportions to face-to-face situations is also unclear. The results in
Table 2 do indicate, however, that none of the members were ‘lurkers’ who sought input from the list
without making a contribution.
Table 2: Analysis of postings of Group 2
Codes G201 G202 G203 G204 Code
Seeking Input HeS
32.76% 15.52% 29.31% 22.41%
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The frequency of planning behaviors seems high and is inflated by the number of instances of
‘initiating activity’ (IA). In the interactions of Group 2, there were many exchanges seeking to
establish and schedule chat sessions so that clarification could occur over work that had been planned
using group email and the discussion board. It seems that this is likely to be rather different from face-
to-face collaborative learning situations, since the discussion does occur both in real time and face-to-
face and there may be less need to seek clarification of tasks. If this is so, guidelines for staff and
students should reflect the greater need for such planning activities.
One of the more notable differences is the absence of challenges to the input of others (CH) and
attempts to explain and elaborate participants’ own contributions (EX) in the interactions of the group
being studied. This might be attributed to several factors. In the guidelines prepared before the topic
was presented, students were advised to be cautious in their interactions because of the ease with
which text only messages can be misinterpreted. In addition, students did not know each other at the
beginning of the course and they did not meet face-to-face, although they did participate in email
introductions and discussion in an earlier assignment. Despite these earlier online interactions, they
did not become acquainted with each other as the topic progressed in the way that does occur in
similarly small classes on-campus. These factors may have inhibited the more robust exchanges that
are part of a ‘challenge and explain’ cycle.
Actively seeking help and feedback (HeS, FBS) are prominent behaviors. They do indicate that
participants are willing to expose their naiveté in relation to the task or in relation to the software that
they are required to use and indicate that their participation is genuinely collaborative. In the
Contributing category, we see that the complements of these calls for input – feedback giving (FBG),
and sharing of knowledge (SK) – were also relatively frequent.
The pattern of interaction in the reflection/monitoring category is also interesting. Most of this
reflection was about the effectiveness of the medium, with very little being focused on task progress.
It maybe that this outcome was the result of the novelty of the medium for these students.
Social interaction accounts for almost 5% of all coded contributions. This figure is interesting as
previous research (eg Cook, 1997) has indicated that a very high proportion of online interchanges are
merely social interactions. However, in her study, the online component was optional. A high
proportion of unproductive social interaction appears to be associated with online discussions that are
not a compulsory component of the topic being taught and where the online discussion is not related
to assessable tasks (Hiltz, 1997). It appears that most of the discussion in Group 2 has been task
focused, although there has been some social interaction. However, far from being a distraction from
the academic tasks, it is thought that this form of conversation contributes positively to social
cohesion, perhaps being the equivalent of the patter that occurs as groups work together in a seminar
room task. Some of the social discussion about work situations also contributed to others’
understanding of group members’ preferences for particular forms of technology as they helped to
establish the context in which group members worked.
In summary, the analysis of participants’ postings reveals many of the behaviors associated with
collaborative learning in face-to-face situations. Challenging others and offering explanations were
absent in this study and this may be associated with students’ unfamiliarity with each other. The
encouragement of more social interactions, perhaps through more structured online self-introductions,
could help to overcome this possible barrier. However, it ought be noted that self-introduction was
required and modeled by the academic teacher. Guidelines for students and staff that acknowledge
this limitation could also promote greater debate, and modeling of appropriate forms of challenge by a
group of teaching staff could lead to greater levels of online debate among students. It is speculated
that other behaviors, such as planning, appear to be more common in online situations as there is a
greater need for overt clarification of goals in the absence of face-to-face interactions.
V. THE INFLUENCE OF THE MEDIUM
A second research question was: “To what extent does the text-only online environment inhibit or
enhance the collaboration that occurs within small project based groups?”. In the foregoing
discussion, reference has been made to possible differences between online and face-to-face
collaboration. The online medium seems to influence collaboration along several dimensions.
JALN Volume 5, Issue 1 - February 2001
Although the students who participated in this study were familiar with the basic internet technologies
email and the web, they revealed some reluctance in embracing the discussion group, reverting to the
use of email (albeit facilitated by the convenience of being able to click a group email button within
the Blackboard Classroom program). Students did spend some time reflecting on the medium, this
behavior comprising 15% of total utterances. They acknowledge the advantages of being able to go
back into the records of discussion provided by the discussion board, but need greater encouragement
to make more use of it. In part, this could be achieved by a redesign of the interface so that fewer
mouse clicks were required to go to the discussion board. In this study, the assumption was made that
students who were familiar with email and the web would be able to use the web-based Blackboard
Classroom software without further instruction. It seems likely that, had students been given more
information about the software and its functionality (beyond the information sheet provided), and how
to make best use of the various functions available, they may have used it more effectively.
There is an important distinction between real-time and asynchronous forms of interaction. For the
reasons outlined early in this paper, there is considerable interest in asynchronous forms of online
interaction in higher education. In addition, the current forms of real-time interaction are limited by
the capacity of the communication links now available and only the exchange of text is readily
accessible and reliable. Despite these limitations, the students in this study chose to engage in chat
sessions several times during the study and they did so despite the difficulties of fitting such sessions
around work and social commitments and across a time zone. Clearly, there is a need to incorporate
among the asynchronous interactions that will increasingly characterize online delivery systems in
higher education, opportunities for real-time interactions among students. For now, those interactions
will be via the very limited text-only chat sessions. However, the convergence of telephony,
videoconferencing, and computing accompanied by increases in communication bandwidth will
enable real-time voice communication (using applications like NetPhone), with simultaneous
document sharing and electronic whiteboards, and eventually fully integrated desktop
videoconferencing. To take advantage of this scenario, some research that examines the need for and
relationship between asynchronous and real-time interactions is required.
A. Student perceptions of the process
An anonymous evaluation of the topic was conducted via a form placed on the course web site. It
included nine questions adapted from the SEEQ instrument (Marsh & Roche, 1994) and a series of
open questions relating to the collaborative learning experience. Through these questions, students
were asked to comment on the collaborative learning processes that were implemented. In particular,
they were asked to comment on the amount of work involved in the collaboration, to identify
perceived advantages and disadvantages, and to indicate whether they found the experience valuable.
Some of the comments about the collaboration are presented below (as submitted by students).
The collaborative exercise turned out to be more work than I thought. Collaborating over the 'net, with
the time delays and with people who I didn't know provided a good exercise in communication. It
created some difficulties for me and I realized that I much prefer to communicate in person.
For the small part that I played in the group, I found it very interesting and stimulating. because I
spent time offshore the whole process was very disjointed and fragmented making it difficult to
maintain a line of thought and adequate contact with other group members. Much of my work was
done alone and that will be reflected in my assignments which may or may not be off on a different
This was new to me and it took me a while to get my head around how it was going to work. I felt
more time was spent chasing late submissions. As far as physically writing a piece of he assignment
not a great deal of work pressure - more so with collaborating and communicating with the group and
trying to chat etc. was more of a challenge. Advantages: Thinking with others, new contacts, different
work backgrounds. Disadvantages: Can be a time waster, Assignment time (2a) seemed to
unnecessarily drag on forever due to trying to catch up with everyone, Rely on others to contribute to
I found the collaborative group activity to be interesting as it provided me with an interface with other
students and thus exposed me to their thoughts on the subject matter. This part of the course was very
time consuming, particularly with time differences, work, study and family commitments. The need
Documents you may be interested
Documents you may be interested