Academic journal article Quarterly Review of Distance Education

Triangulating Assessment of Online Collaborative Learning

Academic journal article Quarterly Review of Distance Education

Triangulating Assessment of Online Collaborative Learning

Article excerpt


The implementation and assessment of collaborative learning is both complex and messy. This complexity is furthered in contemporary online learning environments as collaboration plays an integral role in the construction of knowledge through the various learning tasks set within an online course. Instructors often create collaborative learning tasks to link knowledge building (e.g., a community learning culture) from individual learning. Such collaborative tasks may range from short, inweek tasks, to larger scaffolded projects that are completed over several weeks. Even though the course content may be adequately designed, the learning process that can be embedded through formative and summative assessment of the collaborative task can easily be overlooked or underused. Understanding and using appropriate assessment processes must be part of the overall learning design; it is important to integrate how assessment will play a critical role in collaboration and contribute to knowledge creation.

The focus of this article is to examine the interconnected components for assessing online collaborative learning by way of establishing the essence of collaboration in the online environment. Set upon the understand ing that "knowledge building is the creation and improvement of knowledge of value to add to one's community" (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2010, p. 8) and aligned with the online collaboration research of Ingram and Hathorn (2004), we present an assessment model that examines the interactivity of stakeholders involved in assessment of collaborative learning in online environments. Specifically, the model identifies how the learner, peers, and instructor need to be engaged in the assessment of learning through collaboration within online environments. Assessment design, assessment transactions, and assessment for knowledge construction are discussed as part of the online collaborative learning assessment model (Figure 1).


The concepts of group work, cooperation, and collaboration may be similar, yet each is unique. Group work brings learners together for communicating about the subject matter without direct instructor facilitation (Smith et al., 2011). The democratic, interdependent nature of group work is an autonomous function (Jahng, Nielsen, & Chan, 2010). However, Jahng et al.'s description of group work leaves the function of interactivity between group members undefined.

Cooperation is defined as a "style of working, sometimes called 'divide-and-conquer,' in which students split an assignment into roughly equal pieces to be completed by the individuals, and then stitched together to finish the assignment" (Ingram & Hathorn, 2004, p. 216). Similarly, Dillenbourg and Schneider (1995) described cooperative learning as "a protocol in which the task is in advance split into subtasks that the partners solve independently." These definitions of group work and cooperation acknowledge that each learner in a group works to address or solve a portion of the problem. From this group effort, information is shared and a conclusion or product is created. As such, the interactivity of sharing information allows for knowledge experts to be formed within the group. The cooperative context of sharing information in the task engages students in knowledge clustering and partition of knowledge, in general. Dialogical exchanges that take place are specific to sharing information such that individuals complete a project's components. The overall learning outcome of such tasks often results in learners having a deep contextual understanding of their own contribution, and a more surfacelevel understanding of all components in the project.

Collaboration, as defined by Dillenbourg (1999), is when two or more people learn together. Adding to that definition, the Galileo Educational Network (2008) noted that collaboration is "a structured, recursive process where two or more people work together toward a common goal-typically an intellectual endeavor that is creative in nature-by sharing knowledge, learning and building consensus" (p. …

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