|Australasian Journal of Educational Technology
2004, 20(2), 171-190.
This paper presents a multimedia mediated, student centred learning environment which seeks to study the group based, cooperative learning paradigm, using a web based multimedia project. This project is carried out in a Malaysian classroom by groups of students in the second year course in the Faculty of Creative Multimedia (FCM), Multimedia University (MMU). In the cooperative learning environment, students are grouped in small learning teams to solve a problem or to perform a task that is presented to them by the teacher. This learning environment, however, uses a web based multimedia project as the core of study, and is a variation of the student team learning techniques proposed by Slavin (1994) using project based learning. Students in the group cooperate and work among themselves, help each other to build the web based project, and then receive a group performance score. The overall objective of this 9-week study is to provide students with a group based, student centred, cooperative learning experience, and to investigate its impact on student learning. A survey was given to the students to ascertain their reactions and perceptions to this learning environment. Some students' works were also showcased. Results obtained were positive and encouraging.
This ICT revolution is fast changing the world, and creating a generation that is media hungry and technologically savvy. ICT is also fast gaining popularity in the education field as a means for creating a better teaching and learning environment. The marriage of content and technology not only provides the teacher with a more effective way to transfer knowledge and information to students, but also enables students to learn in a more productive way. In education, advances in computing and multimedia technologies have resulted in creating an emerging breed of technologically proficient learners. This new generation of learners is using digital media for learning and for communicating (Tapscott, 1998).
In the web based cooperative learning experience described in this article, multimedia authoring tools, Internet communication tools such as email, FTP and chatrooms, and web based authoring tools including Dreamweaver and Flash, are used by technologically proficient students to undertake their projects.
The roots of the cooperative learning model can be traced back to the works of Dewey (1916) and Thelan (1954) in the early 20th century. Dewey (1916) in his book Democracy and Education conceived the idea that classrooms should mirror the larger society, and function as a laboratory for real life learning, whereby students can participate in small groups and learn democratic principles and behaviour through daily interactions with each other. Thelan (1954, 1963) provided a more precise structured form of group investigation, and laid the foundation for contemporary developments in cooperative learning. Both Dewey and Thelan regarded cooperative group work not only as a means to improve academic learning, but also cooperative behaviour and processes, as a part of human endeavour to build and maintain a strong democratic society. Thus, according to them, the way to achieve this aim was to structure classrooms and student learning activities based on the model of cooperative learning.
In the traditional classroom in higher institutions of learning, students are usually expected to sit passively and listen to a professor deliver his or her expert educational content. Students expect to be evaluated on the basis of their individual work in quizzes, assignments, examinations and tests. Each student competes with peers to obtain the highest score that can be achieved individually. There is seldom use of interactions among the students, and rarely any opportunities to work together as a team in their learning. However, cooperative learning as an alternative to the traditional learning mode may improve student learning outcomes, and encourage development of team skills.
Arends (1997) described this learning model as characterised by cooperative task, goal and reward structures. A cooperative task is one that contains a single common goal that all group members aspire to attain. In this learning environment, students must cooperate and work together in teams to accomplish a common task. In this learning mode, the reward systems are group oriented rather than individually oriented as in the traditional, directed instruction method. In other words, to be effective, cooperative learning must create a situation in which students will interact with each other, share ideas and discussions, and strive to work together to achieve the shared group goals, rather than competing with each other for individual accomplishment. The teacher, on the other hand, acts as a 'consultant' or guide to support their learning, rather than as an 'expert' as in the traditional method of learning.
The best argument for cooperative learning is that it increases cognitive achievement and fosters social and team building skills. Johnson & Johnson (1994) have indicated that cooperative learning approaches lead to (a) higher academic achievement than competitive or individual approaches, (b) better interpersonal relationships among students, and (c) more positive attitudes towards the subject being studied and the overall classroom experience. Slavin (1990) reported that in 49 out of 68 studies, the results favoured cooperative learning, compared with traditional methods.
The newly formed subgroup members would now have to discuss their research papers and organise the information on their theorists. The modified content on the learning theorist from each subgroup would then be passed to the respective SGLs. The SGLs had responsibility for communicating the website tasks from the LGL to their members, collecting the reports written by their subgroup pairs in Stage 1, summarising and editing the materials, and compiling them to create their subgroup web pages. All the subgroup web pages are then given to the LGL, who compiled them to create their Learning Theory website. These groups were given 4 weeks to complete the task.
Throughout the duration of the 9-week project, students also met outside their class times for about 1 hour each to discuss their strategies and decisions. Since scheduling meetings posed some problems for some groups, many scheduled their meetings via Yahoo! Messenger, emails, and even through telephone conversations. Some time was also allocated during their lecture classes to attend to group meetings and discussions, with the lecturer present as an external consultant and facilitator. Figure 1 illustrates the development process for this class.
Figure 1: The class development process
|Role of the teacher||Role of the student||Role of technology|
Figure 2: Students' product outcome
The technology in this environment acts as both a communicative and a learning platform for the students and the teacher. As a teaching and learning medium, the teacher used the technology to create the technology based instruction for the class lectures. Web authoring technologies like Macromedia Flash and Adobe Image Ready were made available in the labs to help them create their websites. As a communicative tool, the web technologies were utilised to help the teacher keep in touch with the students and to house the students' website, as well as making it accessible to them. Students also used the web technologies to help them overcome communication problems such as inability to schedule and conduct physical meetings, updating members on new information, sharing ideas, conducting asynchronous discussions, and posting queries. Yahoo! Messenger (for real time chats) and Yahoo! Groups (for group discussions) were the popular web communication tools used, second to emails. Table 1 depicts the role of the teacher, students and technology.
Figure 3: One student team in discussion over the project
Specifically, students' perceptions and attitudes towards this cooperative learning environment were measured through their reports on the following cooperative constructs in the survey: 1) Teamwork, and communication skills, 2) Project management, 3) Capability to perform, and 4) Personal attitudes.
The students were given a 13 item survey, adapted from Diamond (1998) and Angelo & Cross (1993), at the end of their task, to assess their attitudes towards doing the project and working in their respective teams during the respective phases. The reliability of the survey, using the Cronbach alpha coefficient, was 0.8673, indicating satisfactory levels of internal consistency (Lim, Khine, Hew, Wong, Shanti & Lim, 2003; DeVellis, 1991).
Figure 4: Students' communication on Yahoo! Groups discussion board
The survey was measured on a 5 point Likert scale, with 1 = Strongly Disagree (SDA), 2 = Disagree, 3 = Undecided, 4 = Agree, and 5 = Strongly Agree. Table 2 illustrates the means and the number of student responses (in percentages, %) on the various survey items.
|Survey items||Mean (m)||%*|
|1.||We were able to achieve our group goals||4.83||85.1|
|2.||Our group leader was very effective||4.11||85.1|
|3.||I enjoyed collaborating with team members||3.89||76.6|
|4.||I was able to contribute well to the project||3.89||78.7|
|5.||The collaboration enhanced my learning of the topic||3.81||70.2|
|6.||My group members contributed well to the project||3.81||66.0|
|7.||The collaboration was a challenge but I enjoyed it||3.77||66.0|
|8.||My group was able to work together effectively||3.77||63.8|
|9.||We were able to solve our problems as a group||3.70||63.8|
|10.||I found the collaboration very motivating||3.57||57.4|
|11.||My group communicated well with each other||3.55||57.4|
|12.||I learn more from the collaboration than on my own||3.49||53.2|
|13.||My group taught me some things I would not have learnt on my own||3.47||51.1|
|* % response for an item is the percentage of students who responded '4' or '5'|
As shown in the table, the majority of the class reported favourable attitudes and perceptions in the surveys. Therefore, within this cooperative learning environment, several cooperative constructs (and skills) can be assessed.
|Question 1:||Give example(s) of something you learned from the group that you would not have learned working alone.|
|Question 2:||What problems did your group face and how did you solve them?|
Analysis of the written comments revealed that students found the project enhanced their teamwork, communication and project management skills. Tables 7 and 8 list some of the comments for Questions 1 and 2, respectively (these comments are in the students' own words and not modified for grammatical errors).
|Question 1: Give example(s) of something you learned from the group that you would not have learned working alone.|
|1.||"The thing I learn from my group is new ideas."|
|2.||"Working attitudes. Some of them are really good in team work."|
|3.||"Learning new software such as Adobe Image ready from my group members which I never learnt before."|
|4.||"I learn a lot about doing research."|
|5.||"Teamwork spirit. Should try to involve as much as possible to achieve group goal."|
|7.||"Working in a group has given me a chance to work in a team."|
|8.||"Patient and work together and also I learned how to collaborate."|
|9.||"I learned to share opinions, give suggestions & solve some problem when we have problems."|
|10.||"To work in team, make decision, to accept ideas."|
|11.||"Learn to communicate well."|
|12.||"Cooperation among members give a lot of knowledge compared working alone."|
|13.||"Sharing problems that raise up."|
|14.||"Theories of other learning theorists that I might not have time to study on."|
|15.||"Learn to get things done on time and tolerate one another style of doing things because everyone has his/her own character."|
|16.||"Working in a group requires commitment from every single member."|
|17.||"I won't cover that much detail if I work alone."|
|18.||"Better communication sense, working as a team, perhaps learn to respect each other's ideas."|
|19.||"I learnt how to divide works to each of us, but besides that, we concern with each other's work, whether it is done properly or not."|
|20.||"I learn how to do the website more effectively because there are a lot of ideas that members contributed in order to do this project."|
|21.||"Understanding, care and cooperation."|
As can be seen from the study, students found that working in a group helped them in managing their time, enhancing their communication skills and team spirit, and improving their understanding of the subject matter, as well as in conducting research. Many found that working in a group helped them handle the workload better, and provided them with technical help. In the study, students expressed the need to communicate, cooperate and exercise tolerance and patience when working with other people in a group, The cooperation and collaboration needed to complete their individual tasks were required so as to ensure the smooth management and attainment of the group's goals. They expressed concern over a possible "domino effect", whereby one member's delay would greatly affect the entire group's time schedule and work progress. Some students also expressed a "learning by observing" attitude by watching how their group leader handled their group. In this instance, working in a group gave them an insight on what it would be like to be the leader of a group and what skills were required to manage a group, something they could use when faced with such a task in the future.
|Question 2: What problems did your group face and how did you solve them?|
|1.||"Time - we had not enough time."|
|2.||"We are lacking our time to meet and discuss together but we try to met by a day & divide the jobs."|
|3.||"Hard to get members to meet together."|
|4.||"Knowledge about Dreamweaver not enough."|
|5.||"Hard to get together with a group member because some of them stay off campus."|
|6.||"Problem - difficult to set a meeting. Solutions - only the group leaders go for the meeting then they tell the other members what to do."|
|7.||"To gathering for discussion. Have a meeting after class."|
|8.||"Problem to gather together for discussion. The solution is to discuss online and break into small group for discussion." (OGL) (OGL=Overall Group Leader)|
|10.||"Hard to handle such big group."|
|11.||"Problem to keep in touch with other group members at first but then it was solve by doing the subgrouping."|
|12.||"There are so many members, hard to divide the work. Select a person to contact others."|
|13.||"Lack of leadership and initiative to make decision."|
|14.||"Insufficient time, we divided task to everyone to speed things up."|
|15.||"Some groupmates did not contribute & became parasit."|
|16.||"Different idea, we try to negotiate with each other."|
|17.||"..our research topic is a new field of research and many of us find a bit difficulty. We manage to solve that by breaking information to small parts and take the main idea behind each part."|
|18.||"Planning out the time management. Cause if there was a meeting at least one member won't be able to come for it. We gave out work and gave a due date to it. So everyone did their part and handed them in on time."|
From the survey, and students' comments and feedback in this study, it can be observed that multimedia mediated, cooperative learning enhanced students' teamwork and communication skills, project management, and improved their personal attitudes in learning, enabling them to enjoy doing the project and increasing their motivational levels in learning. The project also helped students to increase their team spirit, and the 'learning by doing' process enhanced their understanding of the subject matter and the conduct of their investigations and research.
In this cooperative learning environment, multimedia was used by the students to design and construct a multimedia project, which was then deployed over the web. This process of learning is more geared towards the constructivist learning perspective where students learn by constructing knowledge and participate actively in their learning process (Jonassen, Peck & Wilson, 1999). As such, the learning process becomes the central focus, and not the content (Neo, 2003). In addition, the use of a multimedia project enabled them to be more engaged and motivated (Agnew, Kellerman & Meyer, 1996) The findings of this study are consistent with the results reported by Neo & Neo (2001), who found similar results whereby students' motivation and engagement levels were heightened through the use of a multimedia, web based group project.
This provides students with an opportunity to be involved in learner centred activities, while the teacher becomes a facilitator of learning, acting as a consultant and guide to the students' learning. The technology used enables and makes the learning process feasible. The requirement to create web based output resulted in students taking advantage of several web based technologies, not only for development, but also for cultivating cooperative and collaborative activities, such as conducting discussions on bulletin boards (Hong, Lai & Holton, 2001; McLoughlin, 2002; Treleaven, 2003) among their peers, which can be accessed by the teacher, and through the sharing of files electronically.
Feedback from the students also showed that they found the cooperative activities beneficial to their own individual learning process, as well as to the group as a whole. Many reported that the project allowed them to learn much more from working in a group environment than working alone. This is consistent with McLoughlin's (2002) position that "learning tasks [that] made use of technology... fostered collaboration, problem solving and interdependent learning." In particular, it was observed that the varying of group membership, from small pairs to larger subgroups, was effective in enabling students to consider the goals of the class as a whole, thus engaging them to work together cohesively toward that common goal, which is the essence of cooperative learning. Overall, the design of this learning environment was successful in that all Learning Theory groups were able to complete and present their website. The SGLs, LGLs and OGL, who were selected via an election by their peers or on a voluntary basis, were integral to the organisation and success of the project. This can be seen from their presentations and journals, as they documented their role in the organising and synthesising their group's activities in order to complete their website.
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Please cite as: Neo, M. (2004). Cooperative learning on the web: A group based, student centred learning experience in the Malaysian classroom. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 20(2), 171-190. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet20/neo.html