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Monday, September 04, 2006

Collaborative Learning with Internet Groupware - Review

Groupware refers to software designed to support or augment group communication or "shared interactive environments" (Wells, 1996). Originally introduced by Douglas Engelbart in 1968, Groupware has been widely used in business and the military for several years. It is now entering the academic arena as educators seek to enhance distance education coursework via on-line interactive/collaborative communications (Schrum and Lamb, 1998).
In general, collaborative learning has been documented to improve academic achievement, behavior and attendance; increase self-confidence, motivation, and liking of school and classmates (Office of Educational Research, 1992); increase academic test scores, raise self-esteem, increase positive social skills (Stahl, 1994); and encourage critical thinking (Newman, 1996; Gokhade, 1995; Nunamaker et. al, 1996).
Internet based collaborative learning, often coined "telecollaboration", can be classified into three genre with associated activity structures (Dawson, K., and Harris, J., in press). The first genre; "Interpersonal exchange", includes diverse activities such as telementoring or impersonations whereas "Information Collection and Analysis" may include a tele-fieldtrip or electronic publishing. The third genre; "Problem solving", is integral to working in groups but also includes information searches, peer feedback, simulations, and other "authentic" activities.

Internet based collaborative learning expands "community" and the learning environment (Ryder and Wilson, 1996); increases interactivity among geographically distant learners, experts, and resources (Schurm and Lamb, 1998); encourages diversity; maximizes user value on time spent gathering information and interacting with peers (Barua, Chellappa, and Whinston, 1996). It also facilitates lifelong learning skills by way of anytime/anywhere learning (Caviedes, 1998); enhances available resources via virtual libraries, publishing, presentations, communications, prints, etcetera (Caviedes, 1998), or even provides methods of instruction unavailable through other means (Bourne, Brodersen, Campbell, Dawant, and Shiavi; 1997).

GroupWare Classification:
GroupWare is classified according to: time/place, restrictiveness/ permissiveness, information sharing versus information exchange, and function.
Time/Place: GroupWare can be synchronous (real time), asynchronous (delayed/across time), or most commonly, a combination of both synchronous and asynchronous components.


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

Restrictiveness/Permissiveness: Restrictive Groupware constrains or directs the behavior of the user by prescribing or restricting alternative courses of action. Permissive Groupware allows the user to do any action at any time.
Information sharing versus Exchange: Another method of classifying Groupware is according to the level of interaction. Information sharing allows users to observe and manipulate objects in a shared workspace whereas information exchange provides a medium for transference of information. Function: Educational groupware components include page and student tracking, test maker and automatic grading system features. Minimally, educational Groupware should consist of the following:
· The ability to input courseware from familiar applications
· Web based data entry
· Elimination of proprietary authoring tools or uploading of programs
· Automated test set up wizard
· Discussion groups, chat, and 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,
· Hyperlinks to Web sites

· Courseware search facility
· Ability to set performance criteria, control pace and testing thresholds
· Assignment creation and issuance
· Student progress tracking
· Self-correcting tests with instructor comments (Microsoft, 1999).

Levels of GroupWare Collaboration:
Groupware collaboration is divided into three levels of group effort: Individual, Coordinated, and Concerted (Nunemaker, Briggs, Mittleman and Vogel; 1996). At the individual level, work effort requires no coordination but is simply the sum of individual results. The coordinated work level requires coordination between independent individual efforts; the concerted work level requires "continuous concerted effort" (Nunemaker, Briggs, Mittleman, and Vogel; 1996).
Levels of Groupware collaboration are responsible for variations between laboratory and field findings due to the synergistic impact of collaboration in individual, organizational, and environmental process. Early laboratory findings differed significantly from "real life" applications mainly because "real groups do not perform tasks in a void, but within an organizational context which drives objectives, attitudes, and behaviors in group meetings" (Nunemaker et. al., 1996). A synergistic effect is achieved when different views of group members creates a

"greater understanding of the problem…or when the group solution is better than if produced by any member individually" (Stenberg, 1995).
The concept of synergistic knowledge acquisition has led to the development of "knowledge management" which centers on the creation of knowledge, securing/combining of knowledge, and the distribution/retrieval of knowledge (Seung, Jayl, Prasad, and Granger; 1997). Widely accepted in the business arena, the same concept is being applied to distance education and distributed learning environments.

Internet Collaboration…It's Different!
Laboratory results indicate variations between the use of Groupware versus none use of Groupware. However, more variations exist between "face to face" collaboration versus "distant" or Internet based collaboration made possible via the Internet (Nunemaker et. al, 1996; Stenberg, 1995). Synergistic effects occur in traditional "face to face" group encounters as well as distant encounters. However, research indicates increased synergistic effects in distance based communications. This is due to the fact "low status members have a tendency to automatically agree (with)…high status members during face to face encounters whereas the anonymity provided by distance correspondence minimizes this problem as the low-status members are unable to copy high status members " (Stenberg, 1995). Additionally, "total amount of input is higher…due to the parallel communication,

that allows the group to "talk" at once and consequently makes it possible for larger groups to be productive" (Stenberg, 1995). This increased productivity once again results in increased synergistic impact for the group. Group members often report this synergistic impact increases stimulation and results in higher overall satisfaction scores in addition to increased access to collective information (Stenberg, 1995).
Although access to collective information is increased, individual "absorption" of information and corrective communication is demonstrated to be "slower than conventional techniques. "Conformance pressure" …commonly referred to as "groupthink"… may also become problematic. Nonetheless, laboratory studies show "teams using anonymous GSS contributed more ideas when they were allowed to enter both positive and negative comments" (Nunamaker et. al., 1996).
The nature of some applications may contribute to other problems rarely encountered in face to face collaborative efforts. For example, the anonymous nature of some components may encourage "flaming" or other unbecoming behaviors. Conflict management can be difficult in a distant environment, the perceived loss of social interaction may hinder some members from full participation, and dominating members may draw undue attention to themselves therefore distracting others from the task at hand. Information overload may result in incomplete task analysis and the technology itself may become a drawback

(Nunamaker et al., 1996; Stenberg, 1995). Adoption and acceptance is fundamental to the success of an initiative as "many groupware systems simply cannot be successful unless a critical mass of users chooses to use the system" (, 1999). An example is the use of a chat room…it is useless if you are the only student logged in. According to Usabilityfirst, "Two of the most common reasons for failing to achieve critical mass are interoperability and the lack of appropriate individual benefit (, 1999). Due to these and other potential problems, mediation is extremely important for the use of groupware applications in distance education. According to Nunamaker et. al; "…technology does not replace leadership"…or as another researcher so succinctly stated: "It's the humans, stupid" (Newman, 1996).

Leadership Issues:
Several elements have been identified as essential to the success of a collaborative learning initiative; (Stahl, 1994; Gay, 1997; Campbell and Bourne, 1997) the following criteria are critical:
· Specific student learning outcome objectives
· Student "buy in" regarding objectives and outcome
· Clear and complete task directions
· Heterogeneous groups
· Equal opportunity for success

· Positive Interdependence
· Positive social interaction behaviors and attitudes
· Access to "must learn" information
· Opportunities to complete required information processing tasks
· Sufficient time spent learning
· Individual accountability
· Public recognition for group academic success
· Post-group reflection on within group behavior
· Flexibility
· Evaluation of the learner and learning environment
· Required contribution and participation
· Non-authoritarian style and responses
· Attention to social and emotional aspects
Instructors must maintain a facilitative approach to learning; "The instructors role is not to transmit information, but to serve as facilitator for learning" (Gokhade, 1995). Instructors must be responsive to learner differences and group "personality". According to Gay, "it is important to incorporate as many approaches as possible into your design to accommodate a range of student learning styles" as well as emphasize active listening between students and instructor interaction (Gay, 1997). Research indicates students who preferred a

visual learning style reported enhanced work whereas students who preferred a verbal learning style found significantly less enhancement from the use of groupware (Becker and Dwyer, 1998).
Responsiveness involves more than just learning style; a study of collaborative learning at Western Illinois University found a "humor played a vital role in reducing anxiety" in addition to shared responsibility for problem solving (Gokhade, 1995). Another study demonstrating the importance of interpersonal relations in groupware discovered storage of information accounted for only 25% of all work surface activities while expression of ideas and mediation of interaction comprised 50% and 25% respectively. Gesturing "played a prominent role in all work surface actions", accounting for 35% of all activity (Greenberg and Gutwin, 1998). Clearly, mediation of interpersonal relations is a significant factor in the success of groupware applications.
Management issues also impact the success of collaborative learning with groupware; security, student/instructor support and training, and evaluation (Gay, 1997). "If the group is headed toward a clearly defined goal…(they) can achieve the goal more productively. If the group is unclear about its goal, the lack of direction will become immediately obvious…" (Nunamaker et. al., 1996).

Structure, Use and Interface Issues:
Groupware applications are highly dependent upon structural related issues with the most recent applications striving toward a "socially natural" setting. According to Saul Greenberg and Carl Gutwin from the University of Calgry (Greenberg and Gutwin, 1998); socially natural groupware consists of:
· Tight coupling: used in intense collaboration but highly restrictive. Tight coupling does not allow the user to move independent of other users.
· Loose coupling: used in less formal collaboration and less restrictive. Loose coupling allows the user to move independently of other users while maintaining "workspace awareness".
· Casual interaction: in daily life people maintain a "general sense of who is around and what others are up to as they work and mingle in the same physical environment…(but) casual interaction in distributed environments is difficult" (Greenberg and Gutwin, 1998). Casual interaction in socially natural groupware mimics the natural setting by allowing "peephole" functions which alert group members availability and actions (Greenberge and Gutwin, 1998).
· Seamless transactions: In the "real world, people move themselves and their artifacts continually and effortlessly between different styles of collaborations; across time, across individual and group activity, across

place, across formality, etc (Greenberg and Gutwin, 1998). Seamless transaction in socially natural groupware supplies:
· A place for individual and group work
· A place for formal and informal face to face meetings
· A place to leave reminders, note, and work artifacts
· A places that supplies opportunities for casual interaction
Socially natural groupware supports the six criteria for designing communal work surfaces (Tang, 1989) including;
1. Methods of conveying and supporting gestural communication
2. Minimization of overhead encountered when storing information
3. Methods of conveying the process of creating artifacts to express ideas
4. Allowing seamless intermixing of work surface actions and functions
5. Provision of a common work surface view with simultaneous access and sense of close proximity.
6. Facilitation of participants natural abilities to coordinate personal collaborations

Groupware and Workspace Awareness:
The new generation of socially natural groupware is highly involved in integrating the social, environmental and other cues mentioned above. Workspace

awareness research has identified several kinds of awareness integral to groupwork including (Gutwin, 1996):
· Workspace awareness: "up-to-the minute" awareness of other's location, activities, and intentions relative to the task and space.
· Organizational awareness: knowledge of positioning…how the group activity fits within larger groups.
· Situational awareness: understanding of the state of a dynamic system.
· Structural awareness: knowledge of roles, expectations, responsibilities,
The issue of awareness is a recurring theme in distance/distributed education literature as it is directly related to the level of perceived comfort associated with the course and therefore, productivity. Research indicates positive results in performance and perception if design and other factors are accounted for. In fact, studies indicate: 97% of students reported "more access to the instructor than in conventional course delivery", 80% indicated "conventional courses were more boring…", and 67% reported "more communication with fellow students…" (Andriole, 1998).

Groupware is measured in relation to several criteria including efficiency and effectiveness, cost, learner and faculty satisfaction, behavior and results.
Functionality is evaluated in terms of :

· 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.
Kirkpatrick (1994) proposed the use of four levels of evaluation including:

1. Learner reaction (end of course evaluation sheet)
2. Learning (learner performance at the end of the course)
3. Behavior (ability to use what is learned in real-life situations)
4. Results (impact on learner/learners organization/etc.)
Three determinants of user value include level of information access (the ability to access relevant information), interaction richness (the extent to which users are able to overcome the barriers of space, time and media/document formats in an interaction with others), and information /interaction cost including the time and effort needed to use and learn supportive technology/software (Barua, Chellappa, and Whinston; 1996).

These criteria lend themselves to a "process evaluation" to determine what "influences facilitate and impede student perceived progress toward student course goals, how are these influences related, and what is their relative importance?" (Campbell, 1997). The process evaluation approach stresses the importance of learning strategy and implementation over that of delivery method but hesitates to use grades and examinations as primary modes of evaluation; "Evaluation of examinations and grades may be to limited. Instead we need to identify specific and meaningful learning outcomes using different models…meaning mastery of higher order learning (Campbell, 1997). Qualitative research is frequently used in the evaluation of groupware applications in the academic arena, however,
quantitative analysis is needed as well.
Qualitative research has traditionally focused on observations, interviews, and analysis of learner posting/feedback whereas quantitative research (widely used in the business arena) has focused on the "no significant difference" phenomena or cost analysis of comparable outcomes (Campbell, 1997). Both qualitative and quantitative evaluation methods have drawn criticism.
Qualitative evaluation focused on learner outcomes assumes all work is exclusively the product of the learner. Critics maintain security issues have not been adequately standardized to ensure testing and outcome measures are actually evaluating student knowledge (Campbell, 1997; Moonen, no date).

The "no significant difference" phenomena as well as the cost analysis approach are both considered questionable quantitative measures for the evaluation of groupware applications with further research indicated. The "no significant difference" phenomena has drawn criticism as a "weak evaluation" unable to "detect the differences… experiments can be designed using a power analysis to estimate the number of learners required to find statistical significance". Indeed, several studies have demonstrated significant improvements (Campbell, 1997).
Quantitative evaluation using cost analysis has also drawn criticism due to the difficulty determining direct and indirect cost, resource accessibility, and other factors (Moonen, no date). Until a standardized dollar value can be identified for both the direct and indirect investment and resource acquisition/access, cost
analysis will continue to draw "fire" as a meaningful evaluative measure.
To complicate matters, experts have not yet agreed upon an operational definition of "value", "efficacy", or even "benefit" in order to determine by what criteria programs will be evaluated. Generally speaking, "cost-effectiveness analysis is applied when the cost are expressed in monetary terms and the effects are measured in non-monetary terms" (Moonen, no date). These variations lend to the expectation of efficacy and effectiveness evaluations. The issue of evaluation is central to the discussion of evaluation and comprises one area in need of future research within the field of collaborative learning and distance education.

Andriole, Stephen J. (1998). Requirements -Driven ALN Course Design, Development, Delivery, and Evaluation. [On-line]. Available: http://www.

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:

Becker, D'Arcy; Dwyer, Meg; (1998). The Impact of Student Verbal/Visual Learning Style Preference on Implementing Groupware in the Classroom. JALN Vol. 2 Issue 2-8/1998.

Bourne, J.R.; Brodersen, A.J.; Campbell, J.O.; Dawant, M.M.; and Shiavi, R.G.; (1997). A Model for On-line Learning Networks in Engineering Education. JALN. Vol. 1, Issue 1- 3/97. [On-line]. Available:

Bourne, John R.; McMaster, Eric; Rieger, Jennifer; and Campbell, Olin;. (no date). Paradigms for On-line Learning: A Case Study in the Design and Implementation of an Asynchronous Learning Network (ALN) Course. Center for Innovation in Engineering Education. Vanderbilt University.

Campbell, Olin, J. (1997). Evaluating ALN: What Words, Who's Learning?. ALN Magazine Vol. 1, Issue 2-8/1997.

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

Dawnson, K. and Harris, J. (1999). Unpublished original material.

Gay, Greg. (1997). Using Research to Design Effective Distance Education. Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE). University of Toronto.

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

Greenberg, Saul; and Gutwin, C. (1998). From Technically Possible to Socially Natural Groupware. Proceedings of the 9th NEC Research Symposium: The Human-centric Multimedia Community. 8-31-9-1. Naru Japan. [On-line]. Available:

Gutwin, Carl. (1996). Workspace Awareness Research. [On-line]. Available:

Moonen, Jef, (no date). The Efficiency of Teletraining. Educational Science and Technology. University of Twente Enschede, The Netherlands.

Newman, D.R. (1996). How can WWW-based groupware better support critical thinking in CSCL? ERCIM workshop on CSCW and the Web. Sankt Augustin Germany, 2/7-9/96.

Nunamaker, Jay; Briggs, Robert; Mittleman, Daniel; and Vogel, Douglas. (1996). Lessons from a Dozen years of Group Support Systems Research: A Discussion of Lab and Field Findings. MIS Department: University of Arizona.

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. .

Seung, Jayl; Prasad, Granger. (1997). An Intelligent Agent-Based Framework for Knowledge Management on the Web: An Exploratory Study of a Virtual Team in Designing a Multimedia System. [On-line]. Available:

Schrum, Lynn and Lamb, Theodore. (no date). Groupware for Collaborative Learning: A Research Perspective on Process, Opportunities, and Obstacles. Journal of UCS. Vol. 2 No 10. [On-line]. Available:

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

Stenberg, Kettil (1995). The Effect of EMS on Group Work. Masters Thesis in Economics. School of Economics and Business Administration. Helsinki

Tang, J.C. (1991). Findings from observational studies of collaborative work. Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Groupware. International Journal Man Machine Studies, 34(2).

Usabilityfirst. (1999). Groupware Design Issues. [On-line]. Available:

Wells, David. (1996). Groupware and Collaborative Support. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency: U.S. Army Research Laboratory. Object Service and Consulting Inc..


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