Collaboration, Communication, and Learning in a Virtual Community

Collaboration, Communication, and Learning in a Virtual Community

Seungyeon Han, Janette R. Hill
Copyright: © 2006 |Pages: 7
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59140-563-4.ch007
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The use of the World Wide Web (Web) for teaching and learning in higher education has increased exponentially in the last five years. Traditional universities (e.g., MIT, University System of California) as well as “virtual universities” (e.g., Western Governors University, Kentucky Commonwealth Virtual University) have moved toward offering courses and degrees around the world. Web-driven communication systems have further increased the popularity of Web-based learning. Web-based course-management and communication systems (e.g., WebCT®, Ellumination®) are specifically aimed at using the Web to support students, instructors, and experts in communicating, sharing, and collaborating with each other in the process of learning. At present, almost any Web-based application may be labeled “collaborative.” Web technologies make possible many-to-many asynchronous and synchronous communication, enabling both time and/or place independence. Time and place independence are important because they offer online learning systems the opportunities to move from individualist modes of delivery to group-oriented interactive modes (Davies, 1995). However, Internet tools such as chat, bulletin boards, or e-mail do not organize the interactions for learning (Roschelle & Pea, 1999), nor were they designed for building and sharing collaborative knowledge. Without advanced pedagogical preparation, these applications may not contribute to collaborative learning. Web-based applications can be empowering, enabling collaborative learning among participants and facilitating the creation of virtual learning communities. However, the underlying theoretical framework to explain how collaborative learning or community building might occur in Web-based contexts does not yet exist. Further, there is little to no agreement amongst researchers related to fundamental concepts associated with virtual communities (e.g., collaboration, communication, or learning) (Lipponen, 2002; Pea, 1996). While this ambiguity can be disconcerting, it is also exciting, reflecting the diversity of emerging field and paradigm for teaching and learning in virtual environments. It is necessary to review this emerging field from multiple perspectives to clarify ambiguity and embrace diversity. Through these efforts, we may be able to suggest new ways of understanding virtual learning communities, exploring what we mean by collaboration, communication, and learning, and thus enable the forward movement of the field.

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