Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Web Supported Group Learning

Academic journal article Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology

Web Supported Group Learning

Article excerpt


It is generally agreed that group learning is an effective way of acquiring knowledge. Working in groups both increases the breadth of knowledge acquired, its relevance, as well as evaluations of the application of new knowledge in a problem area. Group activities, however, are only effective if they follow processes that encourage idea generation and evaluation, discussion and conflict resolution in timely ways following well defined learning steps. This will enable students with different backgrounds (Biggs, 2000) to build on their knowledge through a continuous and guided process of identifying learning goals, discussing and trying ideas and recording outcomes in their learning outputs. The goal of the research described here is to facilitate ways in which students can benefit from group experiences, both in managing group activities and also ways develop knowledge in a particular subject area. The paper uses the idea of service (Hiltz & Turoff, 2002) to describe support provided for learners in groups.

Most web-based support has emphasized individual learning in virtual classrooms (Wade & Power, 1998). Group learning based on this support assumed that students could use the communication facilities provided with web based learning to themselves organize the complex process involved in group work. This paper suggests that services specific to group work are needed for the web to provide value added experiences to group work. Such services provide ways to manage groups as well as assisting the learning process. Support should go beyond the instructivist approach of carrying out teacher directed steps but provide ways to support constructivism and self-directed work, where students build on knowledge through organizing their work activities.

Levels of Support

The paper distinguishes between three levels of support. Each of the levels assumes that a group workspace is created and services are provided through that workspace. The paper distinguishes between three levels of service, illustrated in Figure 1. These are:

* Level 1 services for group management that are usually provided through workspaces that facilitate group collaboration and maintain an up to date context for the group,

* Level 2 services that support informal knowledge sharing, and

* Level 3 services for learning, which provide ways to facilitate learning processes that lead to knowledge construction.


There are also some common requirements for these levels. These are that any support system must be:

* learner driven and be adaptable to changing learning needs,

* presented within the learning context,

* allow gradual introduction to the use of technology. The paper will first describe level 1 services to support group management and describe some experiences in their use. It then outlines some level 2 services and describes a prototype development whose goal is to provide level 3 services.

Level 1--Supporting Group Management

Level 1 services include:

* Ability to form groups and establish spaces for these groups. Ability to customize workspaces that suit your group. Creation by the groups themselves provides a feeling of ownership as well as adapting the workspace to their particular work practices.

* Workspace management in the sense that the workspace can grow as students activities increase. The management should include developing workspaces that place student work in context.

* Provide ways to manage information about the current subject, case study as well as including records of knowledge construction and evaluation and feedback.

* The workspace arrangement should provide ways to structure information and abilities to assign responsibilities to selected students

Providing Group Management Services

As an illustration we have used a system to support group management services. …

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