How to Design Support for Collaborative E-Learning: A Framework of Relevant Dimensions

How to Design Support for Collaborative E-Learning: A Framework of Relevant Dimensions

Dejana Diziol (University of Freiburg, Germany) and Nikol Rummel (University of Freiburg, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-729-9.ch009
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Research on collaborative e-learning has often shown the effectiveness of students’ interaction on their group performance and their individual learning outcomes. However, these positive effects cannot always be found. Collaboration assistance such as pre-collaboration training and collaboration scripts have been shown to support student interaction and problem-solving. When developing assistance for collaboration, teachers and designers must make decisions concerning the processes the support should target, the timing of support, and the interplay of support on multiple levels. The framework we introduce in this book chapter describes these dimensions in detail. We present advantages and disadvantages of different design options, and give an example from our own research to exemplify the design of an e-learning environment that provides collaboration support. We discuss how the circumstances of any particular learning situation might influence which type of support is optimal, and conclude the book chapter with a discussion of possible future developments.
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Picture the following scenario: In a science class, groups of three students are asked to research advantages and disadvantages of different options for energy supply for a little village in the Swiss Alps. Using the internet, they collect information on the geographical site, on costs for the different options (e.g. solar panels, windmills, and power plants), and on expected energy outcome. They are instructed to exchange their findings on a wiki page and develop recommendations for the village that they are supposed to present during classroom instruction. The goals of the exercise are to increase student knowledge on prerequisites for, and advantages and disadvantages of, environmentally friendly energy systems. In group 1, Lynn, Marc and Tom are collaborating. Lynn is not very motivated to participate in the group work and hardly contributes to the wiki page. When Marc realizes that Lynn takes advantage of her partners’ efforts, he as well decides to cease his efforts. In the end, Tom mainly works on the wiki page on his own. While he increases his knowledge on the subject, his partners do not show any learning gains.

In another group, the three students Sandy, Bob and Mike are actively engaged in the team work. They split the task between themselves, each student being responsible for a different type of energy supply. Sandy is responsible for finding out information on energy gained from windmills. She is very enthusiastic about this technology and thus encourages her partners to choose this option. However, in her search, she ignores facts about the geographical site of the village and thus does not realize that the site is too calm for windmills to be efficient. Bob mistakenly believes that solar energy cannot be used during night time and thus encourages his partners not to take this option. After several rounds of discussion, the group agrees on advising the village to build windmills. Due to the missing information on Sandy’s part and the erroneous knowledge of Bob, the group has reached a less-than-optimal decision. Additionally, Sandy and Mike might have even adopted erroneous knowledge from Bob during their interaction.

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