Collaborative learning in a Web-based environment
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This study focused on developing an understanding of how students’ collaborative learning is supported and reflected in asynchronous discussion. The participants in this study consisted of the instructors, facilitators, and the students in a master’s level course at a university in the South. Various sources of evidence were used in the study (individual and focus group interviews, and discussion board transcripts), and multiple methods were used to analyze the data (inductive analysis, discourse analysis, and mapping strategy). First, the study explored how asynchronous discussion, supported by a Web-based learning system, facilitated collaborative learning. Three main categories with multiple themes emerged from the data as important for facilitating collaboration in online environments: context (i.e., structural support, active participation), community (i.e., a formation of membership, generation of social dialogue), and cognition (i.e., a social process of learning, communal facilitation). Second, the study examined different interaction patterns and different types of discourse generated in an asynchronous discussion board. The findings of the study reflect a fundamental change from viewing online discourse as an individual process to a social process. Three different patterns of interaction were identified (i.e., interaction between messages, interaction amongst participants, and interaction around the messages). In addition, five different types of discourse were illustrated (i.e., description, conceptualization, connection, application, redirection).