Academic journal article Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning

Building a Framework to Support Project-Based Collaborative Learning Experiences in an Asynchronous Learning Network

Academic journal article Interdisciplinary Journal of e-Skills and Lifelong Learning

Building a Framework to Support Project-Based Collaborative Learning Experiences in an Asynchronous Learning Network

Article excerpt


Providing educational services via an asynchronous learning network (ALN) is fraught with a great number of challenges, especially when concerned with the higher cognitive levels such as analysis and evaluation. The use of project-based, collaborative assignments has been demonstrated to foster greater depth of learning in traditional classroom settings, but this type of assignment is very difficult to plan, develop, and execute in an ALN. The goal of this paper is to present a case study of a framework for designing and implementing project-based collaborative assignments that has been developed and documented over the course of the past five years (Ellis & Hafner, 2005, 2006, 2007; Hafner & Ellis, 2004)

This paper is organized into five major sections. The balance of this introductory section includes an articulation of the problem driving this research and the goals for the study. The second section presents an analysis of the benefits of both collaborative and project-based learning. The third section examines the challenges of incorporating project-based collaborative learning activities, and the fourth section examines the specifics of the framework established to meet those challenges. The final section presents conclusions and a discussion of areas warranting additional research.

Problem Statement

The value of collaborative work as a tool to promote learning is well-established (Benbunan-Fitch & Hiltz, 1998; Dillenbourg, Baker, Blaye, & O'Malley, 1996). Morgan, Whorton, and Gunsalus (2000) established that students engaged in team-based efforts have been shown to become more actively engaged in the learning activity and, consequently, more likely to retain the information being learned longer. Sloffer, Dueber, and Duffy (1999) and Johnson and Johnson (1996) demonstrated that team activities foster higher-order thinking skills such as analytical reasoning, synthesis of multiple information streams into a whole that is indeed greater than the sum of its parts, and evaluation. Students are introduced to an environment that better prepares them to meet the challenges inherent in succeeding in the workforce by more closely paralleling life experiences (McLoughlin & Luca, 2002; Romano & Nunamaker, 1998).

Promoting collaboration within a classroom setting is not easy; there is, in fact, often resistance from both the instructor and the student. Many teachers are uncomfortable with collaborative learning assignments, perhaps because they had never worked in the environment as either a student or instructor, and have little understanding of just what types of learning outcomes could be facilitated in a collaborative environment (Muir & Tracy, 1999). Students, likewise, are often uncomfortable with collaborative learning activities. Those who have been successful in the more traditional, lecture-based environment frequently view collaborative assignments as a threat to their performance and, ultimately, their grade. Many students lack the social skills that are prerequisite to success in collaborative activities and, even for those who are socially adept, adapting to the new expectations and roles fostered by the environment can be threatening (Herreid, 1998).

The problems associated with promoting a collaborative learning experience become magnified exponentially when the course material is delivered via an ALN. The freedom from time and place constraints that attract many students to Web-based courses comes at a significant cost. In an ALN, the absence of the traditional non-verbal queues such as tone of voice and body language and the lack of immediacy in responses can present significant challenges to the establishment of an effective project team. As a result, educators are faced with a dilemma: both students and academic institutions are flocking towards courses offered via an asynchronous learning network, but collaboration, one of the most promising pedagogical tools, appears to be quite difficult in that environment. …

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