Designing Collaborative Learning Through Computer Support

Dennen, V.P. & Haodley, C. (2013). Designing Collaborative Learning Through Computer Support.  In Hmelo-Silver, C. E. (Ed.). The international handbook of collaborative learning. (pp. 233-249). New York: Routledge

“Collaborative learning with technology is more than the use of some tool; rather, it requires careful design of not only tools, but also the learning activities and settings in which those tools take place.  Computer-supported collaborative learning is distinguished by the use of technology to support collaborative learning, as well as by a history of examining not only the design of technology tools but also the design of learning environments, including such aspects as curriculum or even more emergent aspects such as facilitated student-driven inquiry.  In this chapter, we discuss theories, principles, and techniques for designing computer-supported…



Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) focuses not just on the design of learning tools but also the learning environment. Use methods in CL section as examples of different methods addressed at the learning aspect of group work.  Learning has been looked at, and continues to be looked at, in reasonable depth.  My work looks very specifically at the process the instructor uses to put students into groups, with the goal of improving the overall process, allowing the benefits of the methods listed to be more fully realized.  Discussion on designing CSCL in different environments.



  • “Collaborative learning design strategies are not contingent upon one specific learning theory” (p. 390).
  • “It is unlikely that any one learning theory is the best way to explain every aspect of a learning situation” (p. 390).
  • Methods: (p. 390-2)
    • jigsaw (Aronson & Yates, 1983) – one student from each group is assigned to learn something, then put into a different group of all those from the other groups assigned to learn the same things.  The students all then reconvene in their original groups, bringing their knowledge back to the group in order to assemble all the parts needed to address the issue.
    • reciprocal teaching (Palincsar & Brown, 1984) – students use summarizing, question generating, clarifying, and prediction , with both teacher and each student in the group taking a turn as leader.
    • problem-based learning (Barrows & Tamblyn, 1980) – learning to solve real-life problems with the help of a facilitator. Students identify gaps then solve them, forcing internalization of the learning.
    • communities of practices (Lave & Wenger, 1991) – share a set of core practices, learners move from peripheral to central participation as they learn more.
    • knowledge-building community (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1994) – emphasize collective cognitive responsibility, collective cognitive responsibility, collectively pursue knowledge, driven by the problems generated by the group.
  • “Learning goals set the stage for the rest of the learning experience.  Without clear learning goals, the rest of the learning experience is difficult to design.  Ideally, learning goals are stated in terms of learner outcomes, not activities” (p. 393).
  • “The collaborative premise is the very reason for engaging learners in a collaborative process and should be made clear to the learners, who need to know why the are supposed to collaborate.  The premise should express clearly what value might emerge from their collaborative work, why their interdependence will be an important part of the learning process or their personal inventive structures, in what ways they will be interdependent, and how the very act of collaboration relates to the learning goals.  If these things cannot be articulated to the learners, then the collaborative premise is likely to be weak” (p. 393).
  • “A group assignment should be a deliberate decision typically specifying both the size and composition of collaborative groups” (p. 393).
  •  “Teachers play an important role in the collaborative process, facilitating learners by monitoring their progress and providing support, guidance, and feedback as needed” (p. 395).

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