Margarida Romero, ESADE / Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona
Professors at the biggest university in Spain propose using the Collaboration Awareness Tool (EURO-CAT) to track the hourly activities of a project’s collaborators.
Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have fostered the development of online education in higher education and lifelong learning. Online learning allows students worldwide to develop individual and collaborative learning activities with a high degree of spatial flexibility, but only a certain degree of temporal flexibility (Cole 2000; Romero 2010). In terms of their geo-locations, students can be in different places, and only some of the virtual campus activities require them to attend face-to-face sessions, e.g., skill-based workshops or in-person assessments. Despite limitations on temporal flexibility presented by many online learning courses related to fixed instructional times and collaborative learning processes, one of the main reasons why students enroll in a virtual campus is their expectation of significant temporal flexibility (Mupinga, Nora, and Yaw 2006). However, time is not totally flexible in terms of assignment due dates or in the development of collaborative learning tasks that depend on the limited availability of individual teammates (Romero 2010).
Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning in the Virtual Campus
In the context of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) in the virtual campus, the learners are divided up into geographically dispersed or distributed teams. Distributed teams are “groups of individuals who do not share a central geographic location and who are working towards a common task or have common goals driving each individual’s performance” (Fiore, McDaniel and Jentsch 2009, 29). Distributed-learning teams are confronted by several difficulties with regard to knowledge construction (Kreijns, Kirschner and Jochems 2003), Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), time flexibility and the planning and monitoring of individual and collective tasks in the context of distributed online teams (Capdeferro and Romero 2012; Romero, et al. 2012). In the case of international learning teams located in different time zones, temporal coordination is one of the greatest challenges facing team members. Collaborative learning involves not only knowledge about one’s own cognition, resources and learning strategies (metacognition), but also awareness of teammates’ cognition, resources and learning strategies. Awareness can be defined as the “understanding of the activities of others, which provides a context for your own activity” (Dourish and Bellotti 1992, 107). Since enhancing group awareness (and thus metacognition) helps team learning (McCarthy and Garavan 2008), our goal has been to design the Group Awareness tool, EURO-CAT, to facilitate team communication, coordination and knowledge convergence.
Knowledge convergence is considered to be one of CSCL’s objectives (Fischer and Mandl 2005; Weinberger, Stegmann and Fischer 2007). Knowledge convergence could be defined as the process by which two or more people share mutual understandings through social interactions. We regard knowledge convergence as being based on Transactive Memory Systems (TMS); TMS suggest that group members could serve as external memory aids to help each other (Wegner 1987). Consequently, TMS are related to Shared Mental Models (Espinosa, et al. 2001) and linguistic common ground, which is considered as a basis for mutual knowledge in order to work collaboratively (Clark 1996).
Temporal Convergence and Group Coordination
Temporal convergence has been studied in both onsite and online settings and can be used as an indicator of time management in long-term CSCL activities. In traditional classroom contexts, Zerubavel (1981) observed that participants working in the same team share a sense of temporal patterns with their colleagues, allowing them to predict their availability and other temporal features, and then coordinate their temporal availabilities with their teammates. The perception of teammates’ temporal patterns is more difficult to develop in CSCL because of the loss of shared physical context.
Group awareness is essential for collaboration as it allows students to predict teammates’ intentions and thus coordinate their own activities (Dourish and Bellotti 1992). It also facilitates task coordination to support group activities (Kalika, Boukef and Isaac 2007). Group awareness is essential in order to support an individual’s perception of other people’s status and activities; helping to optimize the coordination, communication and knowledge convergence process. Group awareness includes consciousness of other people’s temporal and time-on-task patterns, collectively known as Group Time Awareness (GTA). GTA refers to the learners’ perception of other teammates’ temporal availabilities and patterns, which should allow for better planning and regulation of collective activities.
Collaboration Awareness Tool (Euro-CAT) to Support 3C
The professors who teach the master course “Instructional Design in E-learning” at the biggest online university in Spain propose introducing the Collaboration Awareness Tool (EURO-CAT1) for communication, coordination, and knowledge emergence and capitalization in CSCL environments, in order to support their convergence. We assume that this is feasible because collaboration awareness could be enhanced by increasing the mirroring capabilities of Interactive Learning Environments (ILE). The information is mirrored in ILE, “affecting the activities of people through its presence augmented with awareness information” (Fujinami and Riekki 2008, 13). Therefore, we assume that supporting interaction awareness (Lambropoulos and Culwin 2009), and awareness of teammates’ status and past activities, will foster coordination, cooperation and collaborative knowledge processes in long-term CSCL activities.
As shown in Figure 1, Euro-CAT allows students to describe their activities and current status individually within a shared interface, which can be viewed by the entire group. The tool does not aim to replace other communication tools already available in the Interactive Learning Environment (ILE), or to replace other coordination and knowledge production tools. Euro-CAT is designed as a task-independent tool for introducing new functionality of additional group awareness support focused on group time management, and knowledge management explication. The tool includes a third functionality concerned with managing difficulties. These difficulties could be considered in terms of any of the 3C elements (coordination, communication or knowledge convergence) as added value in CSCL settings.
Students using EURO-CAT could declare their individual status, based on these dimensions throughout the task. They could also visualize and respond to other teammates’ statements. Initial results were obtained from quasi-experimental conditions with the tool focused on time management to support coordination convergence (Romero, Tricot and Mariné 2009). The findings suggest that group awareness and temporal convergence increased in all groups using EURO-CAT, and in particular in those groups having a lower knowledge level before the start of the collaborative learning activity.
The impact of the EURO-CAT tool on CSCL described in this exploratory study has provided a guide for future research within the project, where the tool is expected to be used in United Kingdom, France and Spain.
This research work is supported by Euro-CAT-CSCL, an FP7 Marie Curie IAPP research project developing a Collaboration Awareness Tool (CAT) in Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL).
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About the Author
Margarida Romero is the associate director of E-learning in the ESADE Business School and an expert in educational technology.
- The EURO-CAT tool is free-of-charge and available upon request for educational purposes (http://www.cat-cscl.eu/). ↩