Examining Graduate Students' Cooperative Learning Experiences in an Online Reading Course

Examining Graduate Students' Cooperative Learning Experiences in an Online Reading Course

Jackie Marshall Arnold (University of Dayton, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0246-4.ch018


This chapter examines one way in which students engage in learning literacy content in an online context utilizing cooperative learning pedagogy, a research-based, best-practice approach to learning. The online course was purposefully developed to integrate the elements of cooperative learning: positive interdependence, student interaction, individual accountability, use of interpersonal/ small group skills, and equal opportunity for success, as referenced papers show. Findings indicate that students had positive learning experiences when utilizing cooperative learning pedagogies in an online environment. Three significant themes emerged from the data analysis: students 1) clearly identified the importance of leadership in the course experience; 2) articulated their appreciation of learning from others; and 3) stated they had an enhanced learning experience through the cooperative learning structure. As more universities, high schools, and elementary schools seek additional options for students to learn online, they should consider cooperative learning as a highly viable option.
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With the proliferation of new technologies and learning management systems, the field of education now offers an increasing number of literacy courses, undergraduate and graduate level, in an online context. Yet limited research exists to examine pedagogies of best practice in this online environment (McInnerney & Roberts, 2009). This chapter examines one way in which graduate students can engage in learning critical literacy content in an online context while utilizing cooperative learning pedagogy, a research-based, best-practice approach to learning (Johnson & Johnson, 1999; McInnerney & Roberts, 2009, Slavin, 2017).

The purpose of this research was to study and disseminate the ways in which graduate students responded to cooperative learning strategies embedded in an online graduate literacy course. This course is the first in a sequence of required literacy courses in a graduate program, and it focuses on providing teachers the opportunity to extend their knowledge of the reading/language arts processes and the principles underlying effective instruction. Key concepts are drawn from recent research and theory in language learning (Levey & Polirstok, 2011), developmental reading research (Gambrell, Morrow, & Pressley, 2019), and research describing the literacy processes of children (Alvermann, Unrau, Sailors, & Ruddell, 2018).

This research explored the use of cooperative learning strategies in an online literacy course in order to examine ways in which this pedagogy may or may not support student experiences. Thus, the goal of this study focused on adding to the foundation of research regarding whether or not integrated cooperative-learning pedagogy might be advantageous for educators teaching an online course. In its examination of the topic, this chapter addresses the following objectives:

  • How does the use of teams in an online class based on cooperative learning methods support or deter the students’ learning process and understanding of the material?

  • In what ways does the team-based structure impact the students’ perceptions of the course and their experiences in the course?



Teaching courses in an online environment provides both opportunities and challenges. Though more and more educational systems are utilizing online contexts, little research exists examining these learning experiences. It is thus important to examine the research in the following three areas, 1) the development of online courses, 2) the use of cooperative learning as a highly effective research-based practice, and 3) research articulating students’ experiences in online courses.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Collaborative Learning: Working in a social setting, potentially as a team, to obtain or build knowledge.

Constructivist Learning: Learning theory that focuses upon individuals working and learning together to construct knowledge.

Communities of Practice: Small groups of individuals who engage in learning together around a common topic, engaging and interacting together, typically over a sustained period of time.

Discussion Forum: An online platform in which participants post responses and engage in virtual, asynchronous discussions.

Online Learning: Tools for educational content that are grounded in and accessible through the Internet.

Cooperative Learning: Working together as a team with a common goal and a common outcome.

Promotive Interaction: provides and encourages opportunities for group members to motivate each other, provide feedback to each other, constructively challenge and advance each member’s thoughts and ideas.

Positive Interdependence: Every member of the team shares the work and relies upon each other to complete that work.

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