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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Examining collaborative learning in an online course Jahng, Namsook


The purpose of this dissertation research was to examine collaborative learning processes during a project-based small group activity in a graduate online course. The specific research questions were: (1) How can group collaboration be assessed quantitatively? (2) What factors hinder or facilitate small group collaboration? (3) Which participation behaviours in whole group discussions before entering small groups are associated with small group collaboration? I developed an analytical framework, the Small Group Collaborative Learning Model (SGCLM), for assessing small group collaboration during project-based activity by modifying the Community of Inquiry model (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000) in combination with the online interaction learning model (Benbunan-Fich, Hiltz, & Harasim, 2005) which used the input-process-output (IPO) framework (McGrath, 1964, 1984; McGrath, Arrow, & Berdahl, 2000). Based on the SGCLM, I analyzed 2,029 messages (732 messages from small group forums and 1297 messages from the whole group discussions by twenty four students enrolled for 13 weeks). The data were coded into three communication categories (cognitive, social, and managerial) as well as communication directions (sender and receiver). For the data analysis, multiple methodological approaches (content analysis, social network analysis, and qualitative analysis) were employed. Collaboration in six small groups was assessed by three quantitative indices in terms of a group’s communication quantity, group members’ participation equality, and a group’s information sharedness. Following the quantitative assessment, a qualitative examination of the collaboration processes was conducted to identify the specific problems indicated by the quantitative indices. Finally, statistical analyses were performed on students’ participation behaviours before entering the small groups to discover whether these behaviours were related to more/less collaboration in the context of the small groups. I conclude that the three indices can be helpful for researchers, instructors, and course designers who aim at assessing and facilitating project-based small group collaborations in terms of more active communication, more democratic contributions, and more open communication. The collaboration indices can be a useful rubric for instructors to capture potential problems during small group activities and to provide support for the groups. Limitations and suggestions for future research are discussed.

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