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                              Instructor: Linda J. Smith

     Course Overview               Requirements               Study Planning Aids
Course Description          Texts and Course Materials   Key Dates
Goals/Objectives            Course Requirements          Calendar
Scope of the Course         Writing Standards            Reading/Activities Check List
Theoretical Framework       Technical Requirements
Course Modules
Evaluation                      Institutional Policies

                                 COURSE OVERVIEW

Course Description

Introduction to Online Collaborative Learning (IOCL) introduces distance education
students to the concepts and principles of online collaborative learning. Students begin
with a self-assessment of personality traits, learning preferences, and assets relevant to
collaborative activities. The course focus is the development of skills necessary for
successful work in study groups by describing features of group formation and
distribution of work, project planning and task analysis, organization of study group
space, communication techniques, and guidelines for participation. IOCL is a
prerequisite for the Online Collaborative Learning Workshop in which students gain
substantial study group experience by completing several collaborative assignments
that utilize the principles and techniques presented in the introductory course. This set
of courses comprise an important offering in the student support subsystem of any
Web-based program in the higher education sector by preparing students to succeed in
an activity important both to their online learning experience and future work with
colleagues in the new information-based economy.

General Goals/Objectives

The purpose of this course is to provide students with a foundational knowledge of
online collaborative learning, an understanding of its value, and the ability to apply
principles found in guidelines for online participation and collaborative group work.
From this base, students will learn to analyze a group assignment, determine the tasks
necessary for completion of the assignment, and synthesize those elements to create a
project plan. They will also learn to evaluate which of various options, materials, and
ideas presented by group members are most appropriate for completion of the
assignment. These objectives encompass the full spectrum of educational objectives in
the cognitive domain as categorized in Bloom's taxonomy (Driscoll, 2002). The course
is designed to accommodate students who already have online collaborative experience
as well as those who are new to the environment. Even the more advanced student is
expected to benefit from an objective examination of online collaborative learning.
The expectation is that students completing this course will gain an appreciation for
diversity of thought and the contributions that fellow students can make to their learning.
As individuals, they should experience empowerment in online collaborative learning
activities through development of the requisite skills for success and an awareness of
personal attributes and assets.

Scope of the Course

This course is being offered as a prototype for developing online collaborative learning
skills for higher education students in a virtual university using Web-based technologies
to reach a global audience. In its initial trial phase, the course is designed to prepare
English-speaking students from countries familiar with Western culture how to work
together to enhance their learning in higher education courses. Future versions of the
course will include a preliminary segment that addresses cultural differences and issues
that impact online interactions, and the companion workshop course will contain
exercises designed to help students gain experience in working in multi-cultural groups.

In addition to the limitations on the breadth of the scope of this course, there are also
limitations on its depth. Issues such as the degree to which collaborative learning can
contribute to higher order thinking have not been addressed and are more properly
covered in a course of longer duration.

While an effort has been made to design the course with special needs students in
mind, such as the visually impaired, it is acknowledged that additional enhancements
will be of benefit in future versions. For example, a system of sound cues to correspond
to the visual cues of color and layout would aid the visually impaired in the recognition
of cognitive relations.

Theoretical Framework

Two main theories are employed in the pedagogy of this course. One is Cognitive
Coherence Relations (Mancini & Shum, 2001) applied in the hypertext study guide and
group learning exercise. The intent is to provide learners with a means of identifying
coherent connections within the navigational paths open to them. Through relational
concepts such as basic operation, source of coherence, order of segments, and
positive/negative relations, readers of these hypertexts can construct meanings as they
proceed through the material. Relationships within the hypertexts are further enhanced
by a "visual language" of shape, color, font, spatial position, and juxtaposition of units.

The second theory is constructivism. A course in collaborative learning is essentially
constructivist in nature as described by Jonassen, Davidson, Collins, Campbell, and
Haag (1995). "Constructivist environments engage learners in knowledge construction
through collaborative activities that embed learning in a meaningful context and through
reflection on what has been learned through conversation with other learners."
Course Modules

Each of the three modules of this course will be opened in the classroom space no later
than midnight of the day preceding the start of the module. Once opened, the modules
will remain available throughout the course. Students are required to participate
according to the class schedule for online activities; however, additions to prior
conference discussions are encouraged whenever students have meaningful
information and reflections to add to the course record. The intent is for the archived
course materials to provide students with as much helpful reference information as
possible for use in future online collaborative situations.

Module 1 – Characteristics of Online Collaborative Learning and Self-assessment
November 20 - 26

Students will describe their current attitudes and knowledge concerning online
collaborative learning.
Students will discuss the characteristics and advantages of collaborative learning in an
online environment.
Students will examine the differences between division of labor and collaboration in
online group learning activities.
Students will use a variety of self-assessment tools to determine individual
characteristics pertinent to online collaborative learning activities.
Each student will describe for a group his or her personal learning style, group relation
characteristics, and personal assets that can contribute to a group's activity.


Introduction to Online Collaboration Study Guide – Chapter 1
See Course Content

Kiesler, S. (1994). Working together apart. CAUSE/EFFECT, 17(3).

Hogan, R., Curphy, G., & Hogan, J. (1994). What we know about leadership:
Effectiveness and personality. American Psychologist, 49(6), 493-504.
Retrievable from MDUSA library, Social Sciences, Psychology, PsycArticles.

Self-assessment tools:

Learning styles

Preparing Students for Elearning
A Learning Style Survey for College

Learning Styles and the Online Environment

Personality types – Myers-Briggs and Keirsey (free sites)

Optional readings:

Gokhale, A. (1995). Collaborative learning enhances critical thinking. Journal of
Technology Education 7(1).

Hughes, S., Wickersham, L., Ryan-Jones, D., & Smith, S. (2002). Overcoming social
and psychological barriers to effective on-line collaboration. Educational Technology &
Society 5(1).

Assignment 1 (Due Midnight EST November 26):
Write a paper (up to 250 words) describing your personal learning style, personality
type, and personal assets relevant for collaborative group activities.

Module 2 – Collaborative Learning Organization and Resources
November 27-December 3

Students will discuss a set of guidelines for participation in collaborative learning
Students will examine the process of group formation, project planning and project
Students will determine the best communication methods for various group activities.
Students will examine several techniques for resolving group differences.


Introduction to Online Collaboration Study Guide – Chapter 2
See Course Content

Jarvis, C. What is it like working in a team? Business Open Learning Archive

McCann, D. Team learning. Team Management Systems Online.

Optional reading:

Curtis, D., & Lawson, M. (2001). Exploring collaborative online learning. JALN, 5(1).

Assignment 2 (Due Midnight EST December 3):
Write one or two paragraphs (100-200 words) explaining what you think is the most
important step in study group work.

Module 3 – Group Project Planning
December 4-December 10

Students will form a collaborative study group.
The study group will analyze a group assignment.
The study group will organize an online collaborative group conference area.
The study group will create a project plan with a set of tasks and timeline for due dates.
The study group will complete a collaborative project and report the results.
Students will reflect on how their attitudes and knowledge of online collaborative have
changed during the course.

Assignment 3 (Due Midnight EST December 9): Collaborative Group Exercise
Each study group (5 students per group) will collaborate to solve the hypertext mystery
"Merger on the Asynchronous Express." Instructions for the exercise and final report
can be found at


Students will be provided with feedback throughout the course both on their
participation and on assignments. Assignments will be graded (Pass/Not-Pass) and
returned with comments to students within two days of submission.


The grading system for this course is Pass/Not-Pass because it is a course offered in
support of the development of learning skills students need for successful online study.
A designation of "Pass" will be awarded to students who demonstrate a) an
understanding of the principles of online collaborative learning and b) the ability to apply
those principles in the electronic classroom. Students who do not pass the course will
be required to repeat it and, upon request, will be assigned a tutor/mentor for special
assistance. No grade of Incomplete ("I") will be given. Students not completing the
course will be considered in the same category as "Not-Pass" students who must repeat
the course.

To pass this course students must:

1. Make meaningful contributions in class conferences (minimum 3 substantive postings
in each of Modules 1 and 2);
2. Complete assignments 1 and 2 in a timely manner in clear and grammatically correct
writing that demonstrates critical thinking; and
3. Participate fully in the collaborative group assignment in Module 3, demonstrating an
understanding of the principles discussed in Modules 1 and 2.

Course evaluation
At the completion of Module 3, students will be asked to provide comments regarding
the course and recommendations for improvement.


Texts and Course Materials

All course materials are accessible online.

Introduction to Online Collaborative Learning Study Guide
Available online: See Course Content

Journal articles and other readings are specified in the module descriptions and reading
list. These readings have not been reproduced but are available to Internet users
through the URLs provided.

Course Requirements

Students will be expected to invest a total of six hours in learning activities for this
course with the weekly time spent averaging two hours per week. Learning activities
include: required reading, optional reading, personal assessment, online conferencing,
evaluation tasks, and a group project. Because of the importance placed on the quality
of interaction in online courses as well as in future professional work, successful
completion of this course within the first two terms of a student's program is a
prerequisite for further study for certificate and degree-seeking students.

Students are required to contribute to online discussions and activities in a timely and
meaningful manner. Guidelines for frequency, volume, and extent of contributions will
be published in the course; however, as a general rule, it is quality rather than quantity
that is most important.

Writing Standards

Students should communicate in clear, grammatically correct writing. Communications
in conference spaces and study group areas may be less formal than assignment
products; however, respect for fellow learners and discourse appropriate for higher
education should be demonstrated at all times. General writing guidelines and formats
for references to external sources will be according to the Publications Manual of the
American Psychological Association (latest edition). Guidelines for "netiquette" can be
found at

Technical Requirements

There are no exceptional hardware and software requirements for this course. The
basic requirements are the same as for any online course with this institution: a
standard PC with a recent version of either Microsoft's Explorer or Netscape Navigator
and an Internet Service Provider with a modem speed of at least 28K (56K or higher
recommended). However, students who wish to explore collaborative learning activities
beyond the confines of this course may want to consider additional equipment, such as
a microphone and Web-camera for synchronous communications and video-
conferencing. Video images require broadband access for effective use.

                               INSTITUTIONAL POLICIES

Student Support and Accommodation

This institution is committed to providing a student-centered learning environment with a
support system designed to maximize opportunities for success for all students
accepted into its programs. While acknowledging that the implications of this
commitment are that our diverse and global student population will require different
levels and types of support, we also recognize that building this support system must be
done in stages. Therefore, the prototype course Introduction to Online Collaborative
Learning will not be able to offer the full range of accommodations as those planned for
later implementations. The pilot course will be limited to English-speaking students
from countries familiar with Western culture and no special needs beyond those that
can be accommodated by text interpretation systems for the visually impaired.

Research indicates that interaction among students is an important element in online
courses but that collaborative learning activities have not proven to be successful,
perhaps because we have not yet found effective ways to support them (Swan, 2001).
In accordance with our policy of pursuing better ways to provide online learning, this
course will be used to research more effective methods to develop and improve student
skills in collaborative learning.
Use of Prototype Course Proceedings for Research and Publication Purposes

This institution has a strict policy concerning the protection of students' privacy.
However, while maintaining the commitment not to release personally identified
information or violate ownership rights, students are advised that because this course is
currently in the prototype stage, course proceedings such as conference discussions
and assignment products are subject to appropriate use in research and publications
explaining the course development process and outcomes.


While the nature of work in this course does not lend itself to being vulnerable to
plagiarism, students should be aware of the importance this institution places on
students submitting their own original work and providing proper references and credit
for material obtained from other sources.

                                             STUDY PLANNING AIDS

Key Dates

November 19 – Welcome day
November 20 – Course begins
November 26 – Assignment 1 Due
December 3 – Assignment 2 Due
December 9 – Assignment 3 Due
December 10 -- End of course

Note: this calendar and the reading/activities check list are available for convenience in
printing and use in a separate file in the online course with expanded format and
additional details.

          Course Calendar: Introduction to Online Collaborative Learning
This calendar provides an overview of course activities and suggestions for self-pacing through
each module in order to maintain a steady flow of communication among students in conferences
and group activities. The only fixed dates are those on which assignments are due.
  Week             Day 1          Day 2       Day 3           Day 4        Day 5        Day 6      Day 7
   Week 1           Nov. 20        Nov. 21     Nov. 22         Nov. 23      Nov. 24     Nov. 25     Nov. 26
Module 1         Introductions   Guide –     Article -       Article-     Explore                  Assignment
Discuss the      Current         chapter 1   collaboration   leadership   personality                   1
value and        assessments                                              type                    Self
features of                                  Explore                                              assessment
collaborative                                learning                                             paper
learning and                                 style
perform self-
   Week 2          Nov. 27        Nov. 28       Nov. 29        Nov. 30       Dec. 1     Dec. 2       Dec. 3
Module 2         Guide –                     Article –                    Article –                Assignment
Discuss          chapter 2                   teamwork                     teamwork                      2
participation,                               (Jarvis)                     (McCann)                Important
organization,                                                                                     step analysis
and                                                                                               paper
   Week 3          Dec. 4      Dec. 5      Dec. 6         Dec. 7        Dec. 8          Dec. 9       Dec. 10
Module 3        Review       Define     Create         Follow         Write report   Assignment   Wrap up
Group           exercise –   tasks      project plan   project plan                       3       session
exercise        begin team                                                           Group        Final
                formation                                                            report       assessments

Reading/Activities Check List

Check                       Reading/Activity                                                Product
          Module 1 – November 20 - 26
          Describe current attitudes and knowledge                                   Conference post #1
          Study Guide – Chapter 1
          Kiesler – Working together apart
          Hogan et al. – What we know about leadership
          Conference contribution                                                    Conference post #2
          Conference contribution                                                    Conference post #3
          Self-assessment                                                            Paper #1

          Module 2 – November 27 – December 3
          Study Guide – Chapter 2
          Jarvis – What is it like working in a team?
          McCann – Team learning
          Conference contribution                                                    Conference post #1
          Conference contribution                                                    Conference post #2
          Conference contribution                                                    Conference post #3
          Analysis of study group work                                               Paper #2

          Module 3 – December 4 – December 9
          Participate in group exercise                                              Group report
          Complete course evaluation                                                 Survey form
          Conference contribution                                                    Reflection on final
                                                                                     attitudes and


Driscoll, M. (2002). Web-based training: Creating e-learning experiences. 2nd ed. San
Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Jonassen, D., Davidson, M., Collins, M., Campbell, J. & Haag, B. (1995). Constructivism
and computer-mediated communication in distance education. The American Journal of
Distance Education, 9(2), 7-26. Retrieved from online course materials.
Mancini, C., & Shum, S. B. (2001). Cognitive coherence relations and hypertext: From
cinematic patterns to scholarly discourse. Proceedings of ACM Hypertext 2001, Arhus,
Denmark, August 2001. Retrieved 9/10/02 from

Swan, K., (2001). Building learning communities in online courses: the importance of
interaction. Proceedings of the Seventh Sloan-C International Conference on Online
Learning: Emerging Standards of Excellence in Asynchronous Learning Networks.
Florida, November 16-18. Retrieved from online course materials.

Other sources consulted:

Lynch, M. (2001). Effective student preparation for online learning. The Technology
Source, November/December 2001. Retrieved April 8, 2002 from

Palloff, R., & Pratt, K. (1999). Building learning communities in cyberspace: Effective
strategies for the online classroom. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Online syllabi at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Archive materials for University of Maryland University College syllabi
OMDE 601 Foundations of Distance Education
OMDE 602 Distance Education Systems
OMDE 603 Technology in Distance Education
OMDE 608 Student Support in Distance Education
OMDE 623 Web-based Learning and Teaching

Source of idea for group exercise:

The title of the group exercise, "Merger on the Asynchronous Express," is a take-off on
the Agatha Christie movie title, "Murder on the Orient Express." In this movie, the
culprits collaborate to murder a fellow traveler while onboard the train called the Orient

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