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Promoting collaboration using ICTs

Kimberley Walsh, Memorial University of Newfoundland


While collaboration and collaborative learning in the classroom have a number of advantages it is not without its challenges (Chan, Leung, Yeung, Chow, Tsui, & Ng, 2005). Students may find it difficult to schedule face-to-face meetings or there may be challenges in ensuring the fair distribution of work/personal responsibilities among group members (Chan et al., 2005). Other challenges to effectively promoting face-to-face collaboration include, promoting positive social interactions among group members (Nussbaum, Alvareza, McFarlaneb, Gomeza, Claroa, & Radovica, 2009), motivating student participation and fostering knowledge construction (Austin, Smyth, Rickard, Quirk-Bolt, & Metcalfe, 2010) and difficulty communicating with partners (Liu & Kao, 2007).

Other difficulties that have been recognized in collaborative learning in face-to-face contexts include, possible occurrences of incorrect information sharing, peers who fail to support other group members, exclusion of an individual from the group and lack of cooperation among group members (Kotsopoulos, 2010). Fischer, Bruhn, Grasel and Mandl (2002) also identified that efficient and effective learning in a collaborative learning environment does not just happen by simply bringing learners together; it must be supported by knowledgeable teachers who promote cooperation and interaction in order for concrete and meaningful learning to occur.

Role of ICTs

“New kinds of social networking, collaborative, mobile, and user-generated-design technologies are creating exciting opportunities for supporting collaborative learning online” (Laurillard, 2009, p. 5). The emergence of information and communication technologies has created opportunities for effectively supporting face-to-face collaborative learning (Huang, Jeng, & Huang, 2009). Lui and Kao (2007) found that computer supported collaboration facilitated interaction among students in a structured face-to-face activity. The introduction of digital technology enables the teacher to design and implement precise learning interactions and can digitally facilitate the link between students (Laurillard, 2009). Appropriately designed ICTs can support group discussion within a constructivist model of knowledge building and is achieved by moderating the contributions of individuals and ensuring there is an exchange of views that leads to consensus building within the collaborative group (Nussbauma et al., 2009). Zurita and Nussbaum (2004) determined that the mobility of handheld devices allowed group members coordinate their face-to-face interactions which in turn lead to effective collaborative efforts among group members. (Zurita & Nussbaum, 2004).

ICTs can allow students to work collaboratively with their peers beyond the restrictions of time and distance (Wang & Lin, 2007). ICTs enhanced and improved communication, presentation and teamwork skills by allowing students to work and communicate synchronously and asynchronously (Wang, Poole, Harris, & Wangermann, 2001; Rummel & Spada, 2005). By employing such technologies in the classroom, along with topics that are interesting, engaging and meaningful to learners’, teachers can also foster motivation, peak interests and in turn promote collaborative learning (Hron & Friedrich, 2003).

ICTs are increasing the potential of technology-based collaboration and the possibilities are almost limitless (Hron & Friedrich, 2003). Huang, Jeng and Huang (2009) found that such technological systems provide authentic and concrete learning as students engage in collaborative projects. ICTs can help students manage, encourage and coordinate their efforts, extend their knowledge base and promote a shared understanding (Huang, Jeng, & Huang, 2009). Such technologies should also allow students to gather and organize appropriate information, control interaction and communication (Zurita & Nussbaum, 2004) and provide an increase awareness of the actions and contributions of other group members and allow for ease of integration of individual work into the joint project (Rummel & Spada, 2005). ICTs can also assist in the development of collaborative learning processes as students work together to create, edit and maintain shared digital pieces (Pifarre & Kleine Staarman, 2011). Zurita and Nussbaum (2004) described collaboration using ICTs as a way to not just “coordinate tasks and simulate problem-solving situations” (p.292), but as a way to support collaboration through ICTs where students use these technologies to “structure and define collaborative endeavors” p. 292).


Liu and Kao (2007) found that mobile ICTs did not support the expected level of participation and interaction among group members and suggested that these technologies did not facilitate group interactions and lead to ineffective communication. However, other studies concluded that ICTs allowed students to coordinate interactivity among group members in face-to-face situations (Austin et al., 2010; Zurita & Nussbaum, 2004). Chan et al., (2005) determined that while ICTs promote flexible learning, they provided little to no support for collaboration in synchronous collaboration. Conversely, ” One-to-one computing environments change and improve classroom dynamics owing to computation and communication capabilities that augment face-to-face interactions” (Liu & Kao, 2007, p. 285). In order to support online collaborative learning teachers must choose appropriate learning tasks that will foster motivation, student interest and participation (Hron & Friedrich, 2003, p. 75).

Support must be provided for students and the diversity of knowledge and experiences must be taken into account before implementing an ICT in collaborative learning (Witney & Smallbone, 2011). Teachers need to consider students’ previous experiences with such technologies and cannot assume that all students possess the same knowledge regarding the use of ICTs (Hron & Friedrich, 2003). It is important that teachers include activities to help students familiarize themselves with the technologies being used before utilizing them in collaborative learning tasks (Judd, Kennedy, & Cropper, 2010). Wang et al. (2001) found that participants in their study gained more confidence in collaborating and more competence in using communication technologies as they progressed in their collaborative projects.

Works cited

Austin, R., Smyth, J., Rickard, A., Quirk-Bolt, N., & Metcalfe, N. (2010). Collaborative digital learning in schools: Teacher perceptions of purpose and effectiveness. Technology, Pedagogy and Education, 19(3), 327-343.

Chan, S. C., Leung, C. W., Yeung, C. Y., Chow, T. C., Tsui, E. W., & Ng, V. T. (2005). Supporting real‐time collaborative learning with web‐based groupware. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 42(4), 349-362.

Chang, C.-K. (2004). Constructing a Streaming Video-Based Learning Forum for Collaborative Learning. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia, 13(3), 245-263.

Fischer, F., Bruhn, J., Grasel, C., & Mandl, H. (2002). Fostering collaborative knowledge construction with visualization tools. Learning and Instruction, 12(2), 213-232.

Grant, L. (2009). ‘I DON’T CARE DO UR OWN PAGE!’ A case study of using wikis for collaborative work in a UK secondary school. Learning, Media and Technology, 32(2), 105-117.

Hron, A., & Friedrich, H. F. (2003). A review of web-based collaborative learning: Factors beyond technology. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 19(1), 70-79.

Huang, Y.-M., Jeng, Y.-L., & Huang, T.-C. (2009). An Educational Mobile Blogging System for Supporting Collaborative Learning. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 12(2), 163-175.

Hyo-Jeong, S., & Brush, T. A. (2008). Student perceptions of collaborative learning, social presence and satisfaction in a blended learning environment: Relationships and critical factors. Computers and Education, 51(1), 318-33.

Judd, T., Kennedy, G., & Cropper, S. (2010). Using wikis for collaborative learning: Assessing collaboration through contribution. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26(3), 341-354.

Kotsopoulos, D. (2010). When collaborative is not collaborative: Supporting student learning through self-surveillance. International Journal of Educational Research, 49(4-5), 129-140.

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Nussbaum, M., Alvareza, C., McFarlaneb, A., Gomeza, F., Claroa, S., & Radovica, D. (2009). Technology as small group face-to-face Collaborative Scaffolding. Computers and Education, 52(1), 147 - 153.

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Zurita, G., & Nussbaum, M. (2004, April). Computer supported collaborative learning using wirelessly interconnected handheld computers. Computers and Education, 42(3), 289 - 314.