Incorporating Technology in a Cooperative Learning Environment

Incorporating Technology in a Cooperative Learning Environment

James Oren (University of Illinois at Chicago, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3476-2.ch048
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Cooperative learning is largely considered a powerful instructional method. Decades of research based on the interdependency theory has created a strong framework on how to design an effective cooperative learning environment. In recent years, new technological innovations have emerged, creating a new field of research known as Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning. This chapter examines how technology can be incorporated using the foundation set by cooperative learning, the challenges such incorporation solves, and the challenges it creates. Additionally, this chapter poses some recommendations for both practitioners and researchers of cooperative learning.
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Cooperative work and socialization have been an ever-increasing presence in the world. New technologies have allowed humanity to erase vast distances between people in other countries. This enables people to develop friendships and collaborations between countries and continents. Additionally, the workforce has seen a gradual shifting from isolated manufacturing and artisan jobs towards a more service and information industries that require employees to interact and work with others both within and between departments.

With such social and economic shifts, new educational initiatives have risen to develop the skills to thrive in this new environment. However, changing educational goals is not an easy task. Schools in countries, such as the United States, the public education systems and subsequently their goals were created during a time of industrialization. The skills necessary for students to obtain were very different. The instructional methods developed during the early stages of education to teach these skills is still a common sight in modern classrooms. Getting to class before the bell, rows of desks facing forward, and the teacher acting as a “sage on a stage” imparting knowledge to waiting vessels are all reminiscent of the industrial sector in which it was created. This industrial model well reflected the skills students would need as they joined the workforce with arriving on time, following explicit instructions, and following a hierarchy with little interaction with their peers.

However, with technological, social, and economic life shifted, these industrial sector skills are no longer useful. The teacher-centered model of education no longer addresses the needs of the students or the economy. Starting in the late 1970s and early 1980s, a call for the shift toward active learning, or student-centered instruction began to gain ground. This instructional style gave students greater independence to discover and explore on their own with teacher guidance rather than direction. The rise in active learning led to decades of research into effective instructional methods including Cooperative learning. This specific version of active learning has only increased in popularity with the rise of technology, which allows for increased communication across vast distances and the breaking down of barriers between positions and industries.

Research done in the field of cooperative learning has developed a framework of what variables affect the success of instruction. While cooperative learning has benefited from decades of research in a wide variety of contexts, the development and attempted incorporation of new technologies into a cooperative learning environment is riddled with mixed results. This paper examines the uses of technology in cooperative learning environments based on previous research in the field in an attempt to guide practitioners in the successful implementation and highlight areas in need of additional research.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning: A cooperative learning lesson which incorporates a computer to support learning. This is a broad sub-field of cooperative learning.

Collaborative Content Tools: A website or platform that may be accessed by multiple users either simultaneously or intermediately. They are used to share knowledge and create a product.

Asynchronous Communication: A communication format that occurs intermittently. Communication is usually text based and allows learners to access messages at any time and revisit previous messages.

Cooperative Learning: An instructional approach that uses groups working towards a common goal. Sometimes collaborative learning is used interchangeably with cooperative learning though this is a point of contention for some.

Structure: Design decisions that make up a curriculum or a lesson. This includes the task, resources, and organization of the lesson before implementation begins.

21st Century Skills: Skills and knowledge thought to be essential for the modern workforce. At its simplest form it is often noted as the “4 Cs”: Communication, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, and Creativity. Note that 21 st century sometimes refers to a framework from the Partnership for 21 st century learning.

Synchronous Communication: A communication format that occurs in real time. Communication can occur various forms from text, video, or voice.

Facilitation: A student-centered instructional approach where instructors guide students to learn for themselves rather than direct instruction where knowledge is imparted.

Collaborative Inhibition: A term used to describe the failure of a group to achieve their potential result. Typically measured against pooled individual scores.

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