Discourses Influencing OU Students' Participation In, and Engagement With, Online Collaborative Learning

Dyke, Janet Elizabeth (2016). Discourses Influencing OU Students' Participation In, and Engagement With, Online Collaborative Learning. EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000ef8a


Constructivist learning theories have inter-subjectivity at their core, and collaborative learning, where learners work together to build knowledge, is widely considered good pedagogy. In distance learning, collaboration usually occurs online. The Open University includes online collaborative learning across the curriculum, but there is evidence of non-participation, and some students report they do not wish to collaborate.

There is little published data on student attitudes towards collaborative learning. This study investigated Open University students' talk and practice around online collaborative learning, and placed it in the context of learning discourses within the University and elsewhere. It was conducted using focus groups, quantitative analysis of social presence during online collaborative learning activities, discourse analysis of University scholarship texts, and evaluation of policy and practice in UK education.

Identified issues included lack of trust in other students, cost-benefit analysis including expectation of extrinsic reward through assessment, and reluctance to both share knowledge and value knowledge of other students. Collaborative activities were viewed as discrete tasks to be completed, and to demonstrate transferable skills rather than as learning processes. There was little social presence during the activities, which it is argued indicates lack of engagement with the community.

It is suggested that presenting knowledge as bounded within a tightly defined and assessed curriculum conflicts with the exploratory nature of collaborative learning, and can discourage student participation and engagement. There is also conflict between the employability agenda and collaboration as a constructive learning tool. It is recommended that learning collaboratively is presented as an ethos rather than as discrete, formal, product-focused and assessed activities. Group trust and cohesion should be fostered. These recommendations are not limited to the Open University or to online learning.

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