Collaborative Learning in Asynchronous Online Learning

Abstract

In the modern age of innovative popular strategies of learning such as the internet online learning, the significance of collaborative online learning is often emphasized. In the background of several limitations of online learning, the incorporation of collaborative learning strategies becomes a central contributing condition to a more effective online or web-based learning which can even challenge the outcome of a traditional learning strategy. In this paper, the significance of collaborative learning strategies in the online learning framework is discussed based on the pertinent theories that address the issues related to collaborative online learning. Another major consideration of the paper has been the integration of Web2.0 in Higher Education (University, College) and it is found that the technologic services of Web2.0 can be effective in Higher Education. Thus, the paper attempts to integrate the topic of Collaborative Learning in Asynchronous Online Learning with the use of Web 2.0 in higher education.

Introduction

In the modern age of innovative popular strategies of learning such as the internet online learning, the significance of collaborative online learning is often emphasized. The modern learning atmosphere is said to provide the right basis for the introduction of online collaborative online learning. The student preferences for the strategies such as online learning have provided the exact context for the students to be more engaged in the type of learning that best suits them. In this context, the most desirable thing about the question under consideration is that the best strategy that assists the learners in their learning is provided so that the learning performance of the students is affected and better results are gained at the higher levels of learning.

There have been several criticisms placed against the innovative learning strategy of online learning and the most significant among them has been that online learning causes less social interaction and social relationships among the students. It is also criticized as it does not cater to the sense of community life and living as is possible in traditional campus learning. In this background, the most recommendable strategy to make online learning most relevant to modern learners, as the research evidence proves, is the introduction of collaborative online learning. The implementation of this strategy is effortless but effective as a relatively less number of students and groups need to be mentored by the instructor which enables more effective learning results. Thus collaborative learning strategies, therefore, become a central contributing condition to a more effective online or web-based learning which can even challenge the outcome of a traditional learning strategy.

Collaborative Learning in Asynchronous Online Learning

In this paper, the significance of collaborative learning strategies in the online learning framework will be discussed based on the pertinent theories that address the issues related to collaborative online learning. Based on the theories, the relevance of collaborative learning strategies for better online learning will be discussed. Thus, one of the pertinent concerns of the paper has been to analyze the collaborative learning strategies in online learning. Asynchronous Online Learning has been the focus of the discussion and ultimately the paper seeks to address the questions such as how we can integrate or implement Web2.0 in higher education such as University, college and what all steps guide one in integrating or implementing Web2.0 in teaching courses in university or college. First of all, it is important that a clear understanding of collaborative learning is developed based on which it is possible to analyze the pertinence of collaborative learning in online learning.

Thus, to better understand the possibility of the use of collaborative learning strategies in online learning, the concept of collaborative learning needs to be clear enough. As a first step, it is of significant note that there have been considerable researches on the topic. Thus, the concept of collaborative learning, i.e. the grouping and pairing of students to achieve an academic goal, has been one of the most commonly researched and advocated concepts among the learning concepts. “The term “collaborative learning” refers to an instruction method in which students at various performance levels work together in small groups toward a common goal. The students are responsible for one another’s learning as well as their own.

Thus, the success of one student helps other students to be successful. Proponents of collaborative learning claim that the active exchange of ideas within small groups not only increases interest among the participants but also promotes critical thinking.” (Gokhale, 1995). There has been a great number of studies that prove the important role of collaborative learning in the development of the skills of the students and the theorists of the social interactions such as Vigotzki, Piaget, and Bruner emphasize the implications of collaborative learning. According to research studies, “collaborative learning fosters the development of critical thinking through discussion, clarification of ideas, and evaluation of others’ ideas. However, both methods of instruction were found to be equally effective in gaining factual knowledge. Therefore, if the purpose of instruction is to enhance critical- thinking and problem-solving skills, then collaborative learning is more beneficial.” (Gokhale, 1995).

The study specifically relates to effective online learning with the help of collaborative learning strategies. As has been already mentioned, the study aims at finding the extent to which there is evidence suggesting effective online learning with the assistance of textual interactions with the strategies of collaborative learning. In the background of higher education online, collaborative learning has great contributions to make. “Traditional e-learning suffered from a “boredom” factor. The introduction of conversational technology constitutes a solution to improve retention rates.” (Selouani et al, 2006). The effective implementation of strategies such as collaborative learning to avoid the limitations of online learning is therefore of pertinent consideration. There have been wide researches in the area of collaborative learning in online learning in which online interactions among students in higher education are investigated. All these studies prove the significance of collaborative learning theories in the explanation of online learning.

In a remarkable study of the relationship between collaborative learning and online learning environment David D. Curtis and Michael, J. Lawson explain the vital relationship between the two. The analysis has been particularly important as the research on students’ contributions to online discussions offers confirmation of effectual collaboration in this online environment. “The literature on collaborative learning has identified a range of behaviors that characterize successful collaborative learning in face-to-face situations. Evidence of these behaviors was sought in the messages that were posted by students as they interacted in online workgroups. Analysis of students’ contributions reveals that there is substantial evidence of collaboration, but that there are differences between conventional face-to-face instances of collaborative learning and what occurs in an asynchronous, networked environment.” (Curtis & Lawson, 2001). The relevance of collaborative learning in the strategies for online learning has, thus, been very much proved by the existing literature on it.

As the most focal consideration of the essay has been the development of the strategies of Asynchronous Online learning with the assistance of collaborative learning, the meaning of the concept of asynchronous online learning needs to be very clear. Most pertinently, the concept of “asynchronous learning networks” (ALN) refers to the use of the Internet to provide education at any time, anywhere. The first among the two possible models for the use of asynchronous learning networks is the model of the “mass market” which “emulates the previous, primarily “one-way” distance learning delivery modes of sending material to students, receiving back individual assignments or test materials, and providing some means of limited one-to-one communication between the student and the instructor. Web pages might replace video for lectures, and email might replace surface mail for student-teacher correspondence, but it is the same pedagogical model. This does have the advantage to educational institutions that education can be very “cheap;’ hundreds or even thousands of students can be accommodated in a single course. Inexpensive adjuncts can be hired to do the grading and communication.” (Hiltz, 1998).

It has been already mentioned that collaborative learning can be best used in online learning to make the latter more effective. Considering how this claim becomes correct, it is important to note that collaborative learning contributes to the development of various skills of the students and therefore it can be crucial in any learning strategy. “Collaborative learning uses small groups of learners in the instruction encouraging them to maximize their own, and each other’s, learning. Collaborative learning engages learners in knowledge sharing, inspiring each other, and applying active social interaction in a small group. Therefore, collaborative learning depends upon the art of social interaction among learners rather than a mechanical process.” (Tu, 2004, p.12). In the higher education system, collaborative online learning can bring about innovative progress. Computer-supported collaborative learning within the context of technology-supported project-based subjects offered to advanced level students of higher education can be most advantageous and several studies and theoretical positions support this claim.

Many such studies focused on the subject that was given in the collaborative online learning at the higher learning levels and the qualitative case studies which investigated the effectiveness of the program revealed how efficiently students work in teams on authentic project tasks. The role of the online tools in enhancing their collaboration has been particularly noted and therefore it was concluded that collaborative online learning becomes an effective tool for the students of higher learning such as university in performing their projects and other tasks more effectively than doing these individually. In an investigation of the background of collaborative online learning, it can be noted that the assistance of the students in developing their interpersonal skills which strengthen collaboration in online learning has been an essential part of the preparation for the world of work. The significance of the collaborative learning strategies in the new ways of learning such as online learning is always stressed.

The advancement of online learning has worked out in favor of the students as well as the teachers and effective collaboration which was the important factor of traditional campus learning in has been considered an effective contributor to collaborative online learning. The role of computer-supported collaboration in the authentic activities and projects of the present day is often emphasized. Online support tools have been essential in online learning to create the learning environment of a collaborative strategy. The preparation of the collaborative learning environment in online learning is often suggested for the effective implementation of collaborative online learning. In a significant investigation of collaborative online learning and its essentials, some pertinent findings were arrived at. “The students identified a range of factors that influenced team success and…common conclusions emerged. One of these was the observation that open communication had to be established and maintained for the team to succeed… For most groups, this meant managing communication among members working in different locations and at different times. This proved to be a significant challenge.” (Bennett & Roberts, 2004, p.10-11). The study also concluded that a range of was needed to support the teamwork. Asynchronous online communication tools were considered effective in these activities.

It is therefore most relevant to investigate the role of collaborative learning in asynchronous online learning and there have several studies in the area which support the need for more effective implementation of an asynchronous learning method in online learning. It is remarked that collaborative learning designs can be more crucial and effective in online learning than pedagogical approaches which stress individuals working alone with materials posted online. “The value of collaboration as a tool to promote learning is becoming increasingly more evident. Students engaged in collaborative efforts are typically more actively engaged in the learning activity and retain the information longer. Asynchronous online environments can provide meaningful collaborative assignments.” (Hafner, & Ellis, 2004, P.6-10). In such practices, software structures that support group collaboration can be developed.

However, it is important, for the group to adopt a structure of interaction that is collaborative, that the instructor molds, models, and encourages the desired behavior in students and the students are able and willing to participate regularly. “Several studies indicate that when collaborative learning is used in ALN delivery, “objective” results in terms of mastery of material and efficiency of education tend to be equal to or better than traditional face-to-face classes. However, even when collaborative learning is used, the current “state of the art” of systems plus pedagogy seems to lead to less feeling of community than is typically obtained in face-to-face small group interaction. The question of how to build and sustain online learning communities is thus a prime area where researchers on ALN ought to be focusing their efforts. The most basic premise from which all online teaching should begin is that the goal is to build a learning community and to facilitate the exchange of ideas, information, and feelings among the members of the community.” (Hiltz, 1998).

The kind of daily interaction between students, as well as the instructor, needs to be encouraged to raise new topics and ask questions of the class, and to respond to one another’s contributions, which does require regular attention from the instructor. It is also necessary that colleges and universities are concerned not with how fast they can ‘put their courses up on the Web,” but with finding out how this technology can be used to build and sustain learning communities.

The Integration of Web2.0 in Higher Education (University, College)

One pertinent question regarding collaborative online learning is about the strategies to make online learning effective. The higher learning sector has been growing at a fast rate and modern technology assist in the greater development of higher learning. One of the most effective tools in higher education has been the use of internet services for learning. The use of social software available which assists in the learning process of the universities and colleges has been one of the popular innovations in technology-assisted learning. The integration of such suitable social software in higher learning has been one of the important concerns at present. There have been many new services introduced in the last few years. Their focus on community, rather than on the service they provide has been always recognized. “More services arise every day that offer full, rich, online user-experiences; services that are no longer inferior to offline applications. This new trend is often referred to as ‘Web 2.0’, but this term evokes more and more resistance. It is argued that Web 2.0 is no more than a buzzword; a slogan that is created to relive the Internet hype of the late nineties. The concepts, projects, and practices included in its scope are far more important.” (Kloos, 2006).

There have been several characteristic features that make Web 2.0 to be specifically useful to modern higher learning. The many types of services available in Web 2.0 can be made the best use of ineffective higher learning. All these technological advances contribute to the inclusion of Web 2.0 in the university and college learning. “Specific technologies contributing to Web 2.0 include blogs, wikis, syndication of content through RSS, tag-based folksonomies, social bookmarking, media-sharing, social networking sites, and other social software artifacts. Although the term Web 2.0 is the latest buzzword around the world beneath all the hype Web 2.0 is seen to hold remarkable potential for addressing the needs of large numbers of students from colleges and universities, enhancing their learning experiences through customization, personalization, and rich opportunities for networking and collaboration.

Moreover, there is something new that Web 2.0 has to share with education: the development of a clear picture of the features that might constitute a new ICT pedagogy in the 21st century: pedagogy 2.0.” (Grosse). In a consideration of the effective implementation of the technological advancements in higher learning, it is often remarked that the core competencies of Web 2.0 companies include services, not packaged software, with cost-effective scalability, control over unique, hard-to-recreate data sources that get richer as more people use them, trusting users as co-developers, harnessing collective intelligence, leveraging the long tail through customer self-service, software above the level of a single device, lightweight user interfaces, development models, and business models. (O’Reilly, 2008, P.5).

Various factors make Web 2.0 a vector of change and innovation and these are listed by Dr. Gabriela Grosseck which include the following. It continuously modifies the classical paradigm of generating and conveying the knowledge (we are talking about the read/write web); It improves the quality of learning, by forcing us to adopt other ways of changing and managing the curriculum; Far from dividing and ghettoizing information1, Web2.0 creates new opportunities of bringing together and connecting, especially using social networks; It facilitates a new educational context, with new procedures, roles and relations in forming and cultivating the young generation (it determines traditional teaching to recoil); It supports the educator with tools and services which are easy to handle and implement, thus eliminating the fear of technology.

Using these technologies does not represent “an elitist acquisition”, but a general practice, especially because, since using Web 2.0 technologies, technical tasks can be solved more easily; It encourages those we teach to give up passive listening in favor of active involvement; It allows didactic relations to take place online, in an environment which requires minimum digital competences of manipulating the computer and the Internet; They learn from each other, to different extents (autonomy to take decisions and to act); It transforms the traditional pedagogical methods in which schools function; It creates the premises for personalized and cooperative/collaborative learning (students and teachers reciprocally support each other), for distributive and continuous learning; It promotes the interest for knowledge (motivating the students); It allows spatial distribution of knowledge; It creates genuine learning communities; It strengthens the principle of sharing information or competences (collective intelligence); It answers the challenge of knowing similar intellectual conducts, etc. (Grosseck).

It is often remarked that Web 2.0 has profound implications for learners and teachers in formal, informal, work-based, and lifelong education. It is significant that Web 2.0 influences how universities go about the business of education, from learning, teaching, and assessment, through contact with school communities, widening participation, interfacing with the industry, and maintaining contact with alumni. Conversely, it is not possible to consider Web 2.0 as the single tool that affects such changes. Rather, Web 2.0 needs to be viewed as an important part of the higher education ecosystem.

Among the other drivers are included pressures to greater efficiency, changes in student population, and ongoing emphasis on better learning and teaching methods. It is, however, important that “Web 2.0 is…a technology with profound potentiality for inducing a change in the HE sector. In this, the possible realms of learning to be opened up by the catalytic effects of Web 2.0 technologies are attractive, allowing greater student independence and autonomy, greater collaboration, and increased pedagogic efficiency… Content sharing via Web 2.0 mechanisms is also the enabler of social software, which as much as pure data content sharing has the potential to change the face of education.” (Franklin & Harmelen, 2007). It is of pertinent note that Web 2.0 systems are increasingly being used all over the western world both on an individual course module level, and at an institutional level.

It is important that in the modern technology-assisted learning environment, everyone is a consumer of information as well as a contributor of the same. The technologies of Web 2.0 help in many ways. These help people in writing their diary on the Internet or add comments to other people’s articles, subscribe to information via RSS (Really Simple Syndication) feeds, ask and answer questions online, and publish pictures, video, and audio files to share with others. Other significant uses of Web 2.0 include the service of the blog which “is a web application which contains periodic time-stamped posts on a common webpage,” wiki which “is a web application that allows users to participate in the creation of content,” RSS that “aggregate information from students’ blogs” and “subscribe resource to support teaching,” and the use of multimedia in education. (Jie).

The services of Web2.0 can be very well understood as the most effective tools for educational purposes and it needs to be clarified that these services were not created especially for dialogue. But rather they originated primarily for different people to “interact with programs, create new items, and store things inside the new items and recordings. Blogs, WikiWiki, recording bookmarks, photographs, and documents may all be used for individual purposes. However, it’s just a small step from such personal use to the creation of a community. Those working on a joint venture do not need to be in the same place and at the same time. Every member of a community can make his contribution. This new model of network interaction can be used in student teaching for development by pupils of ideas of decentralization and environmental strategy.” (Patarakin, 2006). Among the many ways to view the development of Web 2.0, a significant one is to see it as an important contribution to the world of knowledge and it will very soon completely control the learning process.

It is important to view Web 2.0 as a series of at least six powerful ideas or drivers that are changing the way some people interact. It needs to be clarified that these ideas are not the preserve of Web 2. They need to be viewed as direct or indirect reflections of the power of the network: the strange effects and topologies at the micro and macro level that a billion Internet users produce. It is also necessary to understand the various kinds of propositions of Web 2.0. “The changes that are taking place are likely…to provide three significant challenges for education: Firstly, the crowd, and its power, will become more important as the Web facilitates new communities and groups. A corollary to this is that online identity and privacy will become a source of tension. Secondly, the growth in user or self-generated content, the rise of the amateur, and the culture of DIY will challenge conventional thinking on who exactly does things, who knows, what it means to have élites, status, and hierarchy… And finally, there are profound intellectual property debates ahead as individuals, the public realm, and corporations clash over ownership of the huge amounts of data that Web 2.0 is generating and the new ways of aggregating and processing it.” (Anderson, 2007).

There are also several problems associated with the introduction of Web 2.0 systems into HE and there are important ramifications about “the choice of types of systems for institutional use; external or institutional hosting; integration with institutional systems; accessibility; visibility and privacy; data ownership, IPR, and copyright for material created and modified by university members and external contributors; control over content; longevity of data; preservation; information literacy; staff and student training; and appropriate teaching and assessment methods.” (Franklin & Harmelen, 2007). And these are topics that demand institutional responses at the policy and strategy level. It is often remarked that the pace of the expansion of modern technology needs to be even higher for the effective implementation of social software programs. “The web will expand indefinitely till it occupied the complete universe. And the rate of growth would always be faster than what people have seen before. But for the internet to contain everything that surrounds us, it will have to connect to everything it can. It might be the mobile phone, or if you are the sci-fi kind, the chips embedded in your body.” (Why Web 3.0 would be Mobile 2.0? The start of Moogle, 2007).

In conclusion, it has been clear from the discussion that the usefulness of Web 2.0 in the higher education process is often remarked as their various technologies assist the students’ better learning. Though some key factors limit the application of these services in higher learning, the faster growth and popularity of the various services will turn for the better implementation of Web 2.0 in the higher learning aspects. About effective online learning, it is also important to note that collaborative learning strategies, as well as online tools, enhance the scope of online learning in higher learning such as universities and colleges.

References

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