As web-based online teaching rapidly gains popularity in higher education, instructional approaches proven effective in traditional classroom teaching are transferred into online environments. One instructional approach that has been heavily promoted and widely practiced in both the traditional and online environments is collaborative learning. As collaborative learning takes hold in web-based online teaching, many studies on related issues have been published (An, Kim, & Kim, 2008; Brindley, Blaschke, & Walti, 2009; Janssen, Erkens, Kirschner, & Kansellar, 2009; Prinsen, Volman, & Terwel, 2007; Resta & Laferriere, 2007; Volet, Summers, & Thurman, 2009), and numerous research findings have been reported in support of its usefulness (Brack, Stauder, Doery, & van Damme, 2007; Francescato, Mebane, Porcelli, Attanasio, & Pulino, 2007; Han & Hill, 2007; So & Brush, 2008).
Graduate education of library and information science (LIS) is no exception. As more and more LIS programs are delivering courses over the Internet, having instructors teach online and students conduct collaborative learning activities in distributed web environments, researchers began to pay attention to pedagogical as well as technological issues related to online teaching (Harris, Kazmer, & Mon, 2007; Pribesh, Dickinson, & Bucker, 2006). Many studies have been published specifically on online LIS education, mostly from the perspectives of program/course design and student learning. Key issues examined in these studies include: (1) factors influencing student communication styles in problem-based learning (Yukawa, 2007); (2) online interaction (Burnett, Bonnici, Miksa, & Kim, 2007; Du, Havard, & Li, 2005; Stansberry, 2006) and learning experience (Kazmer, 2007); (3) gender difference (Marley, 2007), (4) learning styles and class participation (Simpson & Du, 2004); (5) online LIS program development (Bunn, 2004; Mellon & Kester, 2004 ; Montague & Pluzhenskaia, 2007); (6) course design (Ausburn, 2004; Combes & Anderson, 2006; Kazmer, 2006), and (7) virtual classroom (Kingma & Keefe. 2006; Luo & Kemp, 2008; Nicholson, 2005). However, there is no reported research of distributed collaborative learning in online LIS education on the curricular level, and little is known about instructors' implementation of this instructional approach in course design.
Students benefit from collaborative learning only if it is incorporated into course design and online teaching by instructors; therefore, it is equally important to investigate collaborative learning in online education from instructors' perspective as of from students' perspective, especially to look at instructors' actual implementation of this instructional approach.
This paper reports a case study of distributed collaborative learning in online LIS education. Essentially a curricular analysis, the study examines instructors' incorporation of collaborative learning components in their design of online courses, in a major LIS program in the United States. The study focuses on the extent of distributed collaborative learning being incorporated, forms and content/task nature of collaborative learning activities, and differences between core and elective courses as well as between part-time and full-time instructors.
The remaining content of this paper is organized as follows. First it establishes basic theoretical concepts by reviewing key relevant literature. After stating the research problem and questions, it documents the research method and reports both quantitative and qualitative findings. Finally, the paper concludes by discussing research findings and their implications for online LIS education.
Collaborative Learning is a complex and not clearly defined concept (Resta & Laferriere, 2007). In their effort to identify an underlying theoretical framework for describing how collaborative learning occurs in the web environment, Han and Hill (2007) trace collaborative learning (as an educational theory) to its roots in social theories of learning and theories related to situated and shared cognition. …