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Monday, September 04, 2006

Collaborative Learning and Internet Groupware

Why collaborative learning?

Collaborative learning has been documented to:

· Improve academic achievement, improve behavior and attendance, increase self-confidence and motivation, and increase liking of school and classmates while involving "real community" (Balkcom, 1992).
· Increase academic test scores, raise self-esteem, improve positive social skills, decrease stereotyping of individuals of other races or ethnic groups, and facilitate comprehension of the content and skills (Stahl, 1994).
· Encourage critical thinking (Gokhade, 1995).

Why collaborative learning on the Internet?

· Encourages alternative means of expression by supporting the inclusion of video, sound and text into student work.
· Facilitates expression for special needs students.
· Expanded "community" and learning "environment" (Ryder and Wilson, 1996).
· Increases interactivity among geographically distant learners, experts, and resources
· Encourages diversity across research, experts, learners, and resources (Barua, Chellappa, and Whinston, 1996).
· Maximizes user value on time spent gathering information and interacting with peers (Barua, Chellappa, and Whinston, 1996).
· Facilitates lifelong and "any time any where" learning and skills (Caviedes, 1998).
· Utilizes resources effectively including: virtual libraries, publishing, presentations, communications, print, etc. (Caviedes, 1998).

What is Groupware?

Groupware refers to software designed for group communication consisting of several components including email, bulletin boards, web pages, chat, calendar, and some type of text/video storage and retrieval system. Educational groupware also includes page and student tracking, test maker and automatic grading system features. Groupware may be synchronous, asynchronous, or a combination of both.. At a minimum, educational groupware should consist of the following:
· The ability to input courseware from familiar applications, e.g., Word or Power Point
· Web based data entry which eliminates proprietary authoring tools
· Automated test design (no programming required)
· Discussion groups
· Chat sessions
· Threaded bulletin boards
· Email to instructor and others taking the course
· Pre-recorded streaming multimedia
· White boards, application sharing, and conferencing.
· Downloadable reference materials, bibliographies, articles, papers, etc.
· Hyperlinks to Web sites
· Courseware search facility
· Ability to set performance criteria and control pace and testing thresholds
· Assignment creation and issuance
· Student progress tracking
· Self-correcting tests with instructor comments

Why use groupware?
The Student: Groupware supports interactivity and collaboration among students by expanding the "brick and mortar" of traditional classroom resources whether used in a distance learning setting, as a supplement to traditional classrooms, or in a computer laboratory. Students have the ability to discuss learning with each other, access study materials, and incorporate sound, video, and other media into presentations. Work can be displayed privately or publicly.
The Teacher: Groupware allows teachers to post information/lessons/directions and other information where students can return for immediate help with or without instructor assistance, provide additional examples by linking to other resources, access distant sources of information including other students or classes, supervise a "virtual field trip" with the class, and interact with parents. Organization of information, testing, automated grading, the ability to record the duration and frequency of student visits to the site, and organization of paperwork further reduce many routine record keeping tasks.
Parents: Groupware provides parental access to students grades, examples of student work, and convenient communication between teachers and parents with a simple to learn password protected site. Access and increased usability are key variables in the selection of groupware applications but groupware applications must be evaluated in relation to desired learning outcomes and available resources.


Synchronous or Asynchronous
Shared Drawing

Interactive Slide Show &/or Web Tour
Presentation &/or Shared Web Browsing

Stored Slide Show

Email, Bulletin Board, Listserve
Messaging systems

Chat Synchronous Text-based real time

Broadcasting/Streaming Video
Synchronous or Asynchronous
Direct Messaging


Virtual Library Asynchronous Document

Productivity/Assessment Tools
Synchronous or Asynchronous
Automated Testing/Tracking/ Database/Etc.

How to Begin

To begin using groupware you will need an Internet ready computer with modem and an up-to-date Java enabled browser such as Netscape Navigator or Internet Explorer (Available on-line for free). Many groupware applications are free to teachers (such as whereas others allow a trial period but then require a site license for the school ( Begin by visiting several groupware resources and creating a trial account. You will be asked to create a user name and other account information and then given several options for creating your classroom account. Depending on the application you will be able to choose the color scheme, tools available (chat rooms, bulletin boards, automated grading, etcetera) with a click of a button. On-line help and examples are available on each site but you may never use it: most educational groupware applications have been designed to be highly functional and easy to use!

Evaluation of Groupware:

Groupware is evaluated according to the following criteria:

· Usability: the ease of learning, using, and modifying the capabilities of the product to accomplish the tasks that are common to most users...both instructor and student.

· Capability: the functionality of the product in accordance to the needs/desires of the target audience.

· Performance: the speed or capacity in performing the product's function.

· Interoperability: the ability of the product to transfer information to and from other information systems including file exchange, platform, etc..

· Manageability: the ability to configure, use, and control functions.

Where to go for Educational Groupware Resources:






Balkcom, Stephen, (1992). Cooperative Learning. Office of Educational Research and Improvement. ED Digest 346999 June 1992.

Barua, Anitesh; Chellappa, Ramnath; and Whinston, Andrew B., (1996). Creating a Collaboratory in Cyberspace: Theoretical Foundation and an Implementation. Center for Information Systems Management. University of Texas at Austin. [On-line]. Available:

Caviedes, J., (1998). A Technological Perspexctive of Anytime, Anywhere Education. ALN Magazine Vol. 2, Issue 1-3/1998.

Gokhade, Anuradha, (1995). Collaborative Learning Enhances Critical Thinking. Journal of Technology Education. Vol. 7, Number 1. Fall 1995.

Ryder, Martin; Wilson, Brent. (1996). Affordances and Constraints of the Internet for Learning and Instruction. Association for Educational Communications Technology. [On-line]. Available: http://www. .

Stahl, Robert. (1994). The Essential Elements of Cooperative Learning in the Classroom. ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies. ERIC Digest ED370881 March 1994.


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