CSCL Instructional Design and Tools

CSCL Instructional Design and Tools

=Design of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning Environments=Amanda Hefner, Ching-O Hsin, Michael Ota and Amy PrescottUniversity of Texas at Austin

Instructional Design of CSCL

The design of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) may involve the use of well-established models of instructional design such as ADDIE (Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, and Evaluation) (Piskurich, 2006) or Understanding by Design developed by Wiggins and McTighe (2005). Online collaborative learning, however, presents additional requirements in instructional design because its overarching goal is to produce learning that has been achieved through discussion, discourse, and synthesis (Hammond, 1999). CSCL is "a unique combination of the technological, the social and the educational context" (Strijbos and Kirschner, 2004, p. 15). Educators must design online collaborative learning differently than for a traditional classroom setting or even an asynchronous electronic platform, incorporating additional course preparation, constant monitoring and course improvement, building of a community, and a specific role of the group facilitators.

Initiating the Course

The following steps are critical at the beginning of a CSCL course: 1) explain the goals, purposes and expectations of the course; 2) provide time for student introductions, starting with the instructor’s biography; 3) designate an online space for social conversations and the sharing of personal information; 4) actively assist in the formation of ideal teams; and 5) provide guidance to help teams to be successful. In addition, well-formed teams are important to the success of the collaborative process. There are many factors that should be considered when forming teams, including "homogeneity vs. heterogeneity, team size, management skills and communication skills" (Tu, 2004). The instructor also needs to communicate to the students about his/her teaching philosophy and the design of the course (Tu, 2004).

Monitoring and Assessment

Another important factor to consider in CSCL design is formative evaluation of the learning, social interaction and technology. Throughout the course, the instructor must evaluate and assess the students' experience and learning (Strijbos and Kirschner, 2004). If learners are not doing or learning as expected, changes must be made. At the end of the unit or course, the instructor should summatively evaluate the instructional design and the learning that has taken place. This should include an analysis of student performance data and the satisfaction of the learners (Strijbos and Kirschner, 2004).

Community through Communication

Communication between group members provides a vehicle for resolving misconceptions or ambiguity from the lesson’s tasks. Members contribute differing perspectives and feedback, and serve as additional resources for each member’s repertoire of knowledge. Small collaborative groups provide a community to learn new concepts and terminology, and a forum for positive social interaction. The small group setting also provides a safe environment to express new ideas without the fear of rejection, bolstering this “transitional phase” in learning and leading to a more effective, productive result (Stacey, 1999).

Facilitator's Role in Small Collaborative Groups

The role of the facilitator is very important to the success of the team in CSCL. The facilitator needs to help the team to develop a mutual understanding of the team task, team member roles, a sense of interdependence and processes for completing the task (Tu, 2004). They must also encourage members to post constructive feedback, and provide content and technical support to keep the group on track. In addition, the facilitator should help learners understand what good peer feedback is in order to fully support each other in a collaborative environment (Tu, 2004).

Meeting High-Level Participation Goals

Many educators believe the best approach to online education and fostering a sense of community is to simulate the traditional face-to-face class in an online environment. The challenge is to select appropriate tools and activities that engage meaningful interaction and collaboration. Most importantly, in the context of CSCL, instructional design should aim to facilitate skills that are transferable to the “real-world,” such as metacognitive communication, learning, and participation—the highest level of learner engagement (Knowlton, 2005). This requires that CSCL course designs include the formation of a learning community where assessment is focused on the process of collaboration rather than the end product of the collaboration. Learner participation has been identified as both a primary indicator and problematic issue affecting its success (Hammond, 1999). With this in mind, assessment of learner participation profiles is an important consideration in the design process of a CSCL course.

Levels of Learner Participation

Learner participation has been identified as both a primary indicator and problematic issue affecting its success (Hammond, 1999). Knowlton defines five levels of participation in his "Taxonomy of Learning through Asynchronous Discussion" as: (a) passive participation, (b) developmental participation, (c) generative participation, (d) dialogical participation, and (e) metacognitive participation. Students’ progression through this taxonomy is assessed by their improved understanding of three central tenets of constructivism: (a) the educational utility of the environment, (b) collaboration, and (c) knowledge construction (Knowlton, 2005).

Hammond describes learner profiles—non-participant, silent participant, and communicative participant—by the frequency of contributions, willingness to take risks, and sense of personal responsibility to their group on collaborative activities (Hammond, 1999). Together, both emphasize the importance of the learners’ participation in online learning, knowledge construction and collaboration when designing instruction for CSCL.

Facilitating Reflection and Practice

Instructors can also model the reflective thinking they desire in students through meta-communications, or communication about communication. That is, through commentary on how problems are solved in context, providing feedback on communications, and later summarizing the status and function of the communication process, students are provided indicators of effective communication and reflect on their role in its development (University of Illinois, 1999). Coauthoring is suggested as an activity to provide different learners the opportunity to engage in reflective practice and discussions.

CSCL designs seek to engage learners in reflective interactions, or metacognitive communications and learning. Metacognition involves developing strategies for generating knowledge and monitoring one’s own knowledge. Knowlton points out that some learning environments more easily facilitate metacognitive activity than others. Integration of appropriate technology tools and instructional strategies can propel students’ progression toward metacognitive (Knowlton, 2005) and communicative (Hammond, 1999) participation.

Effective Tools for Collaborative Activities in CSCL

In the past few years, several new forms of communication, such as Weblogs and Wikis, have been developed for use on the Internet. Due to different attributes of these online tools, they have been applied to facilitate teaching and learning in a collaborative learning community according to different learning objectives.

WeblogsThere have been considerable projects exploring the use of weblogs in education, such as Weblogs in Education, Edublog, Weblogg-Ed and SchoolBlogs. A weblog is a tool that helps students brainstorm in an environment that keeps track of their thoughts. The intention in a CSCL course is that the student can go back and build on previous ideas, and get feedback from other students regarding these thoughts (Anderson, 2004). Weblogs can help collaboration be more accessible and diverse. For example, we can create sites where classes from disparate geographical areas can conduct experiments, share the results through text, picture, or video and invite expert scientists into the process to reflect on the results. In addition, the Weblog supports different learning styles. For those students who might be more silent in class, "a blog gives them the opportunity to share in writing the ideas they may be too shy to speak" (Richardson, 2006, p. 28).

Educational Use of Wikis When applying a Wiki in CSCL, instructors need to carefully examine the role of the wiki. In using Wikis, students are not only learning how to publish content, they are also learning how to develop a multitude of collaborative skills, negotiating with others to agree on correctness, meaning, relevance, and more. In addition, students teach each other when using wikis. The tool is not as effective for learners, however, if the facilitator places value judgments on learners' work (Richardson, 2006).

Educational Use of Online Chats
Online chat enables team members to communicate in writing and eliminates the concerns for some students on pronunciation and having to talk in front of other people. Much like spoken conversations, chats are lively, in which several class members can participate and even interrupt each other. Because chat sessions are live, real-time discussions, participants have to be on-line in the chat room in order to participate. Thus, chat sessions have to be scheduled beforehand. Some language instructors consider the use of chat rooms an effective communication tool because the speed of it forces short, spontaneous messages, which enhances the groups' participation (Godwin-Jones, 2003).

Use of Teleconferences to Support CSCL When teleconferences are applied to collaborative activities in CSCL, learning groups meet to talk and see each other over a speaker and/or webcam. The course schedules and learning materials are listed and offered on the site, and at the appointed time, students log in to join the class. The teleconference group can work like any other group or class for students as they contribute their thoughts and feelings through the computer. All participants, including the instructor, can fully communicate with each other in real time without geographical constraints (Portway, 1997).


Anderson, Kristin H. (2004). Student’s Use of Weblogs for Collaboration in an Educational Setting (University of Bergen). Retrieved October 14, 2007 from

Godwin-Jones, R. (2003). Emerging Technologies: Blogs and Wikis Environments for On-Line Collaboration. Language, Learning & Technology, 7(2), 12. Retrieved October 16, 2007, from Questia database:

Hammond, M. (1999). Issues associated with participation in on line forums - the case of the communicative learner. Education and Information Technologies, 353-367, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Knowlton, D. S. (2005). A Taxonomy of Learning through Asynchronous Discussion. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 16(2). Retrieved October 16, 2007, from Questia database:

Piskurich, George M. (2006). Rapid Instructional Design: Learning ID Fast and Right (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Pfeiffer.

Portway, Patrick S., and Lane, Carla (1997). Guide to Teleconferencing and Distance Learning. San Ramon, CA: Applied Business Telecommunication.

Richardson, Will (2006). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and other powerful Web Tools for classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Stacey, Elizabeth (1999). Collaborative Learning in an Online Environment. Journal of Distance Education. Retrieved Nov 19, 2007 from

Strijbos, J.; Kirschner, P. A.; Martens, R. (2004). What we know about CSCL and implementing it in higher education. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Tu, C. (2004). Online collaborative learning communities: Twenty-one designs to building an online collaborative learning community. Westport, CT: Libraries Unlimited.

University of Illinois (1999). Teaching at an Internet Distance: the Pedagogy of Online Teaching and Learning. The Report of a 1998-1999 University of Illinois Faculty Seminar.

Wiggins, Grant and McTighe, Jay (2005). Understanding by Design (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: Association for supervision and Curriculum Development.

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