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

Evaluating How the Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning Community Fosters Critical Reflective Practices

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

Evaluating How the Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning Community Fosters Critical Reflective Practices

Article excerpt


In recent research, considerable attention has been paid to theoretical debate in the field of computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL). However, little attention has been paid to issues of methodology and analysis methods to evaluate the quality of the CSCL community (De Wever, Schellens, Valcke, & Van Keer, 2006; Strijbos, Martens, Prins, & Jochems, 2006) as they have been confronted with a range of problems. One of the problems of researching learning in CSCL environments is perhaps the realisation of the complexity of learning interactions being probed. Analysing how the CSCL community fosters critical reflective practices presents a further challenge.

The Activity System Model, based on a sociocultural perspective, is adopted as a framework for analysing the quality of CSCL community in this research project. This paper attempts to build an appropriate analysis scheme to reveal the quality of reflective learning community in the computer supported environment. Data is analysed to examine how interactivity, social presence and teaching presence have contributed to the mastery of critical reflective capabilities in the CSCL community.

Literature Review

Concept of Activity Theory

Activity theory originates from the ideas of Vygotsky with the concept of activity as the most important focus. Leont'ev (1978), a follower of Vygotsky, stressed that activity is also socially mediated: consciousness and meaning are always formed in a joint, collective activity. As a result, the unit of analysis in studying human mediated activity is an activity system. It involves a community of actors who have a common object of activity (Cole & Engestrom, 1993; Engestrom, 1987). In the activity system model, social mediatedness is characterised by a division of labour and rules mediating the interaction between the individuals in the activity system. The collective activity system as a unit of analysis connects the psychological, cultural and institutional perspective to analysis. The study of activity ceases to be psychology of an individual but instead focuses on the interaction between an individual, systems of artefacts and other individuals in a historically developing institutional setting.

Activity System Model as a Framework for Analysing the Quality of CSCL Community

Activity Theory provides educators with a practical and holistic approach to the evaluation of a CSCL community (Hew & Cheung, 2003). To make the content analysis valid, there should be a concrete link between the analysis categories and the theoretical framework. Without a theoretical model of the collaborative learning process it is impossible to identify empirical indicators that will form the basis of a coding instrument as a standard against which to evaluate whether effective learning is occurring in the online discussions (De Wever et al., 2006). The activity system model (Engestrom, 1987) is useful for bringing together a wide range of information about the factors that impact on the activity. Some of the significant ideas are shown in Figure 1.

In this study, within the activity system, a team of people including peer learners and facilitators working together as a collaborative group can be seen as a basic unit (subject) of an activity, in which the group members are mainly mediated by the asynchronous discussion forum of the Blackboard Learning System ML0 (tool) to engage in a project work on fashion consumerism (object) with other members in construction of knowledge or skills. In the process of knowledge construction, the group functions as a community of learners operating under explicit and implicit rules of working together (project collaboration, submission of assignments or assignment criteria), governed through some form of division of labour (roles such as expert-learner or modeling-mirroring agent) played by various members of the CSCL community in order to create a meaningful outcome. …

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