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Cooperative Learning Effects on Achievement and Community of Inquiry in Online Education Courses

Beth Oyarzun (University of North Carolina Wilmington & Old Dominion University, USA)
Additional Authors
Gary Morrison (Retired, USA)
Session Information
October 15, 2015 - 11:15am
Learning Effectiveness
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Research Study
Institutional Level: 
Universities and Four Year Institutions
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Discovery Session
Atlantic Hall
Session Duration: 
45 Minutes
Discovery Session 2

This session will present the results of a quasi-experimental study that compared cooperative learning to individual assignments into fully online asynchronous learning environments.

Extended Abstract

Online course offerings are growing at an exponential rate to accommodate a diverse student audience. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, the percentage of undergraduates who took a distance education courses rose from 16% in 2003-04 to 20% in 2007-08 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2011). Online courses are an attractive option for undergraduate students because they enable students to work while completing a degree. However, students report a lesser sense of cohesiveness and involvement in addition to a sense of less instructor support in online courses (Hughes, McLeod, Brown, Maeda, & Choi, 2007).

The importance of creating interaction is often guided by the assumption that social construction of knowledge is essential for learning (Vygotsky, 1978). Social constructivism suggests learning experiences are social in nature, and proposes learning cannot be separated from the social context where learners develop their sense of identity from first a social perspective and then an individual perspective (Powell & Kalina, 2009). One potential solution is to apply instructional strategies that encourage interaction through the use of technology to overcome learning in isolation. Moore (1989) defines three types of interaction: Student-Content, Student-Instructor, and Student-Student. Bernard et al. (2009) conducted a meta-analysis of the distance education literature on interaction which concluded that stronger course design features made a substantial difference in achievement and engagement. Increased effect sizes were found with the student-content interaction and the combinations of student-content plus student-student and student-content plus student-instructor. Two of these types of interaction, student-instructor and student-student, require connecting with other individuals. These findings imply that the student-student or student-instructor interaction in a course should be well designed and have a strong link to the course content.

Connected learning environments that encourage interaction are often referred to as communities (Swan, 2002). Community has several definitions in the educational research literature, but community can be summarized as a sense of belonging and trust experienced by learners engaging in meaningful discourse in the learning environment (Blanchard, 2007; Dawson, 2006; Exter, 2009; Ouzts, 2006; Wighting, 2008; Xiaojing, 2007). These definitions reinforce the idea that developing a community is important for the learning process whether it is online or face-to-face (Xiaojing, 2007). The Community of Inquiry (CoI) framework was designed to explain the online educational experience that encompasses three interdependent elements: social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2010). There have been a considerable number of studies investigating the community of inquiry framework (Rourke & Kanuka, 2009); however, few studies reported any objective measures of learning that would support the purported claims of the framework leading to deeper levels of learning. Similarly, Vaughn and Garrison's (2005) failed to find resolution in their analysis that brings us to question the effectiveness of the community of inquiry framework.

One instructional strategy that can aid in creating meaningful interaction and developing an online community is cooperative learning (Palloff & Pratt, 1999). Cooperative learning can generate all three of Moore's types of interaction throughout the learning activity that aids in developing an online community. Research has proven that various methods of cooperative learning have been successful at all levels of face-to-face classrooms. However, little research has been conducted regarding the success of this strategy in the online environment. Borokhovski et.al. (2012) conducted an analysis of 32 studies in which student-student interactions in experimental groups rated higher than control groups in distance education courses. The results suggest that the most effective student-student interaction treatments in distance education or online learning were those designed with the opportunities to work cooperatively. There are several defined applications of the cooperative learning strategy. This study employed the group investigation strategy (Sharan & Sharan, 1976) in which students group themselves into two to six member teams to complete an individual assignment and a group project.

The purpose of this quasi-experimental study was to determine whether cooperative learning increases the achievement and/or sense of community in online education courses. Variables were measured by the community of inquiry survey instrument (Shea & Bidjerano, 2009) yielding subscales for each of the constructs: cognitive, social and teacher presence. The hypothesis was that cooperative learning would increase achievement and cognitive, social, and teaching presence in online education courses. Two-intact undergraduate classes taking an online course were used is in this quasi-experimental study. One course was comprised of extension students taking all online class and the other course included campus students taking a mixture of face-to-face and online courses. Each group completed an individual assignment and a cooperative learning assignment working in groups over two units of study.

The results showed no differences in achievement on the assignments in either unit due to a possible ceiling effect on the assignments. The findings of this study regarding achievement are not consist with research conducted in the face-to-face environment which shows that cooperative learning does affect achievement and learning satisfaction (Slavin, 1991; Johnson & Stanne, 2000). This finding may be due to the effectiveness of the assignment instructions, the level of students, or the scaffolding provided by the instructor during development.

The community results were mixed. During the first unit of instruction, the individual treatment indicated a higher degree of teacher presence. In the second unit, the cooperative treatment indicated a higher rating on the total community of inquiry scale and higher rates of social and cognitive presence. The results of this study suggest that the cooperative group investigation method may help build a community of inquiry for certain student populations, particularly, the population of students that do not have a connection to the campus or the extension students. While the results are mixed, they suggest that additional studies using cooperative learning as a strategy to increase student engagement in a distance education environment.

Lead Presenter

Mrs. Beth Oyarzun is a nine year veteran mathematics teacher who earned her national board certification in 2001. She joined UNCW in the Watson College of Education in 2005 as one of the two Emerging Technology Liaisons, working on faculty development, teaching in the undergraduate programs and serving their outreach efforts. She migrated to the eLearning office in May of 2010 to support all UNCW faculty in their online learning endeavors. Beth is a UNCW graduate in mathematics and received her MS in the Instructional Technology program. She is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Instructional Design and Technology from Old Dominion University.