Academic journal article Journal of Interactive Learning Research

Online Project-Based Learning: How Collaborative Strategies and Problem Solving Processes Impact Performance

Academic journal article Journal of Interactive Learning Research

Online Project-Based Learning: How Collaborative Strategies and Problem Solving Processes Impact Performance

Article excerpt

The goal of this study was to gain insights into the interactions that occur in online communications in a project-based learning activity implemented in an undergraduate course. A multi-case study was conducted of six collaborative groups, focusing on the types and frequencies of interactions that occurred within each group and the perceptions that students had of their experiences in this type of learning environment. It was found that the interactions within each group closely followed established steps in the problem solving process. The findings of this study go further in explaining specific indicators that may determine how well a group performs when using CMC as a support mechanism for project-based learning. High achievers tend to start early, are consistent in the frequency and extent to which they post messages, develop a sense of camaraderie online, are effective organizers and coordinators within the online environment, and engage in a deep, rich thought provoking dialog with a high degree of idea exchange. Low achievers on the other hand are slow starters, are erratic and inconsistent in posting messages, do not form bonds online, are not effective in organizing and accomplishing tasks online, and engage in shallow, directive dialog with little questioning and exchange of ideas. Students also differentiated between asynchronous and synchronous systems as to the type of tasks that are best suited for each. There was a general consensus that asynchronous system are best for tasks that require reflection, time, and deeper thought and synchronous systems are better for brainstorming, as a forum for the free flow of ideas, and for building group solidarity and social connection.

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INTRODUCTION

Curriculum development in higher education has been influenced in recent years by reform efforts that emphasize changes in how learning environments and processes are viewed, on how learning is affected by student traits, and on how new technologies can effectively be utilized to enhance learning (Chickering & Gamson, 1987; Magolda, 1992; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1998). A major challenge is making a shift from traditional pedagogies that are instructor-centered, to a social constructivist paradigm where students are encouraged to not only work individually to solve relevant problems in the academic disciplines, but also to work collaboratively in their endeavors (National Research Council, 1996; National Science Foundation, 1996). Instructional practices encouraging student-centered learning and in which students take a more active role in the creation of their own knowledge are emerging in postsecondary classrooms (Bruffee, 1999; Lattuca & Stark, 1995; Magolda, 1992; Spear, 1989). Social constructivist viewpoints, socio-cultural theories, and principles of situated cognition have all contributed to a greater interest in how the social aspects of learning are reshaped and enhanced by the technological tools that are used to support instructional methodologies (Koschmann, 1996).

Because communication can be facilitated through the Internet it is important to increase understanding of how both asynchronous and synchronous computer-mediated communications (CMC) can be used to carry out tasks in a naturally collaborative network. An emerging body of research suggests that collaborative learning environments at the college level are effective in that they increase student achievement, promote favorable attitudes toward learning, and decrease student attrition when compared to courses that are taught using more traditional pedagogies (Springer, Stanne, & Donovan, 1999). However, it has been noted that in order for these positive effects to occur students must possess the necessary skills of collaboration (Bosworth, 1994). These include, but are not limited to interpersonal or social skills (openness and solidarity), group management/development skills (involvement and control), and inquiry skills (clarification, inference, judgment, and strategies) (Henri, 1991; Lundgren, 1977; McDonald & Gibson, 1998). …

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