Collaborative Learning: Using Group Work Concepts for Online Teaching

Collaborative Learning: Using Group Work Concepts for Online Teaching

Lesley Cooper (Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada) and Sally Burford (University of Canberra, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-735-5.ch003
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This chapter examines the concept of collaborative learning and its theoretical and practical foundations. Collaborative learning takes place in a structured social situation where a group of students work as a team to assist each other with learning tasks. The instructional strategies encourage student to student interactions. Drawing on group work skills, collaborative learning has been demonstrated to be effective in a variety of learning situations. Development of a variety of Internet technologies such as communication tools, emails, discussion forums, video and audio tools together with webcasting allow collaborative teaching strategies to be used creatively in online learning. The authors have trialed the use of various technologies in the human services and several case examples of online collaborative learning are provided. These case studies cover activities such as supervision and controversial issues in social work ethics. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the future directions and the challenges this poses for traditional classroom teaching.
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‘I entered the classroom with the conviction that it was crucial for me and every other student to be an active participant, not a passive as the practice of freedom.... education that connects the will to know with the will to become. Learning is a place where paradise can be created’

bell hooks


Constructivism: The Theoretical Foundation

Collaborative learning is based on the tradition of constructivist epistemology. Simply, constructivism means that we learn through a process of experiencing and then reflecting on those experiences, a process which is often and best done with others. Through this process we create a different understanding of the world. As we encounter new experiences, we use our past experiences to understand and make sense of new information thus making new connections which are then organized into new forms of knowledge With this new information, we can then discard knowledge that is no longer relevant.

Many educators have contributed to our understanding of the importance of constructivism in learning including Vygotsky (1978), Rogoff (1990), Lave and Wenger (1991), and Schon (1983, 1987). According to Vygotsky (1978), higher mental functions are enhanced when the more experienced or capable work with the less experienced or capable in social situations. This is referred to as the zone of proximal development. In a similar way, Rogoff (1990) talked about the value of a cognitive apprenticeship in thinking and guided learning. The less experienced are guided by the more experienced in their thinking about complex problem solving. A parallel in human services is the responsibility taken by supervisors in the work place when they share their thinking about solving difficult cases with students and fellow workers. Lave and Wenger (1991) contributed to our understanding of learning by stressing the importance of context in the learning process. They referred to the concept of situated learning with Wenger (1998) elaborating the value of a community of practice (experienced workers) in the construction of new knowledge. They were particularly concerned with how workers developed their professional skills. In the area of professional teaching and learning, Schon (1983, 1987) also acknowledged the importance of social context. In our professional life, much learning whilst tacit does take place in a social context and through dialogue with others. We know though doing activities and we learn through a process of reflection on, and in action. The ramifications of constructivism are the importance of learning in a social context; the significance of more experienced others and peers in the learning process; and the value of real world issues as the focus for learning.

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