Three basic categories of technologies are effective for extending collaborative learning beyond traditional face-to-face interactions to online learning and distance education: 1. Group support systems (GSS) 2. Collaboratories 3. Integrated learning environments. Although some of the collaborative learning technologies can be used without the Web, the Internet and World Wide Web provide the scalable global connectivity to support these technologies, with the browser serving as a ubiquitous user interface for collaborative learning applications.
Three basic categories of technologies are effective for extending collaborative learning beyond traditional face-to-face interactions to online learning and distance education:
Although some of the collaborative learning technologies can be used without the Web, the Internet and World Wide Web provide the scalable global connectivity to support these technologies, with the browser serving as a ubiquitous user interface for collaborative learning applications.Top
“Group support systems”1 (GSS) consist of a wide variety of technologies configured to support group interactions. GSS typically feature software and hardware arrangements that facilitate asynchronous and/or synchronous intra-group interactions, enable groups to better coordinate activities and enhance group processes. For intra-group communications, GSS rely primarily on electronic mail and computer conferencing.2 (Alavi, 1999). Both are especially popular and useful mechanisms for conducting technology-mediated collaborative learning that have been made possible and cost-effective due to the widespread availability of the Internet.
E-mail is an easy, readily available method for facilitating one-to-one and one-to-many asynchronous communications among members of the collaborative learning team. Because e-mail is a form of asynchronous interactions, senders and receivers of communications do not have to be online at the same time. The ability to send and receive messages at one’s own convenience is particularly useful for collaborative groups distributed over more than one time zone.
Asynchronous computer conferencing also allows interaction without users being online simultaneously; thus, it is convenient for groups distributed across multiple time zones. “Threaded discussions,” a popular form of asynchronous computer conferencing, consist of a series of related messages. Conferences may contain a number of threaded discussions on different topics. Each is an evolving, structured discussion that can be tracked and retrieved by team members interested in a particular topic. Because of its almost universal availability, the Internet has become the medium of choice for providing messaging and computer conferencing. Asynchronous computer conferencing systems have been very successful for supporting collaborative learning (Griffin, 2001). One such system, START Asynchronous computer conferencing, features an electronic bulletin board for messaging along with data management capabilities that organize and structure transactions.
Live, real-time “conversations” (interactions?) comprised of text messages can be conducted using synchronous computer conferencing. Prevalent GSS modes of synchronous communication are instant messaging and online “chats.” These methods allow group members to communicate interactively with others using “channels.” During these conferences, members are able to send and receive messages. Identifiers, such as group member names, are used to display the list of people participating in the conference and identify the sender of each message.
For many years, multi-point videoconferencing systems have been used to provide courses to remote students in rural areas throughout the world. Synchronous videoconferencing consists of bi-directional, full-motion video and audio communication between two or more geographic locations. The Executive MBA program at School of Business at the Queen’s University in Canada uses real time videoconferencing systems to transmit classes to students in remote sites throughout a number of time zones in Canada.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Collaboratories: Provide groups with technologies and tools so that they can access each other, databases and remote tools to better collaborate, coordinate activities and enhance group processes.
Synchronous Group Communication Technologies: Allow real-time, interactive communications and require participants to be online simultaneously.
Distance Education: Learning situations in which the students and instructor are located in different localities for at least a portion of the class.
Group Support Systems (GSS): A wide variety of technologies configured to support group interactions. GSS typically feature software and hardware arrangements that facilitate.
Asynchronous Group Communication Technologies: Allow participants to send and respond to messages without being online simultaneously.
Distributed Learning: Learning situations in which the students and instructor are in different localities. A bit broader than distance education, as it can be used to refer to both education and training.
Integrated Learning Environments: Current and emerging learning management systems combine information management and productivity tools along with GSS features for support and management of individual and collaborative learning. Document and multimedia information management (drop boxes and other tools for storage, retrieval, sharing and organization of learning content and discussions), threaded discussions for asynchronous communication, instant messaging for synchronous communication and advanced e-mail (spell check, multiple views allowing sorting of messages and other extensive message editing capabilities) are important features in learning management systems. Testing, grading, student registration and management of question-and-answer sessions also enable management of the learning process.