Although the pedagogical advantages of online interactive learning are well known, much needs to be done in instructional design of applicable collaborative learning tasks that motivate sustained student participation and interaction. Among others, some of the known factors that affect the outcomes of interactive learning include the structure of the online discussion, group size and group cohesion, strictly enforced deadlines, direct link of interactive learning activities to the assessment, and the differences between process and product oriented collaborative learning. This study explores the differences between process and product oriented group learning activities and their impact on online cooperation and collaboration in Web-based courses.
The pedagogical advantages of student interaction in collaborative construction of knowledge are grounded in the social constructivist perspective of learning. (Duin & Hansen, 1994; Kern, 1995; Wang & Teles, 1998; Wu, 2003). Although the benefits of collaborative learning in web-based learning environment are well accepted by researchers, much needs to be done in instructional design of applicable collaborative online learning tasks that motivate sustained student participation and interaction. Research has shown that computer mediated communicative (CMC) tasks require more active role of students than traditional instruction in the face-to-face environment does (Wang & Teles, 1998). Students need to be willing to send a formal written question rather than have a casual conversation with peers or with the instructor in order to have their questions answered (Kuhl, 2002). To communicate effectively with peers and the instructor, students need to create the context through written messages, which requires the writing skills to identify their problems and express them precisely in order to have the questions answered (Kuhl, 2002; Macdonald, 2003).
In addition to negotiation skills online, previous research has identified a number of other factors that influence student participation and interaction in a web-based learning environment. Among others, the assessment of collaborative learning tasks plays a crucial role in ensuring student participation (Kear, 2004; Kear & Heap, 1999; Macdonald, 2003; Wang, 2007). In general, assessed collaborative learning tasks attract student participation at the cost of unassessed tasks. Furthermore, grade for discussion was also positively related to students’ perceived learning (Jiang & Ting 2000).
The structure of discussion in CMC is found to be another important factor in ensuring the amount of participation and level of interaction and collaboration among the peers. Such structure includes the size of the discussion groups, the nature and types of discussion topics (Williams & Pury, 2002), and whether the collaboration emphasizes on the process of learning or the end product of such collaboration, or both (Kear, 2004; Kear & Heap, 1999; Macdonald, 2003; Wang 2007).
To summarize, online negotiation skills, the direct link between collaborative tasks and assessment, the structure of online discussions such as the nature and types of discussion topics, the size of the group, and the differences between process and product oriented collaborative tasks are some of the factors that influence student participation, interaction, and collaboration. Table 1 summarizes the above listed factors that affect student online interaction and collaboration.Table 1.
Factors that influence students’ participation of online collaborative tasks
|Assessment||Direct assessment||Un-assessed, indirect assessment|
|Topics||Course contents||Other contents|
|Time frame||Strict deadlines||Open-ended|
|Structure||Process oriented||Product oriented|