Computer-supported collaborative learning

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Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) is a method of supporting collaborative learning using computers and the Internet. It is related to Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW) and cuts across research in psychology, computer science, and education.

The technology allows individuals who are far apart to collaborate on-line. The use of these tools is increasing, however many teachers are still new to what tools are available on the Internet and how to use them effectively. This article details some of the tools available and suggests ways to use them to promote online learning and the collaboration of students.


About CSCL

CSCL is a method for bringing the benefits of collaborative learning and cooperative learning to users of distance or co-locative learning via networked computers, such as the courses offered via the Internet or in a digital classroom. The purpose of CSCL is to scaffold or support students in learning together effectively. CSCL supports the communication of ideas and information among learners, collaborative accessing of information and documents, and instructor and peer feedback on learning activities. CSCL also supports and facilitates group processes and group dynamics in ways that are not achievable by face-to-face communication (such as having learners label aspects of their communication).CSCL is a way of integrated teaching

Current Research

Due to the surge of distance learning via the Internet, including courses that employ CSCL, it is important that educators and instructional designers better understand the benefits and limitations of CSCL. Like many educational activities, it is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of CSCL activities. Early efforts focused on suspected detrimental effects of communication filtering of computer mediated communication (CMC) and ignored the potential benefits of CMC. Historically, the lack of evidence that technological innovations have improved learning in formal education highlights the need for evidence of whether, how and when expected improvements in learning take place.

A key characteristic of CSCL research is its diversity in methodology: CSCL researchers apply laboratory experimental methods, quasi-experimental approaches, discourse analyses, or case studies. Qualitative data shows high regard for use of CSCL tools as aides to learning in the classroom.

Means and Mediums

Online Collaboration tools are the means and mediums of working together on the Internet that facilitates collaboration by individuals who may be far apart.[1] The use of collaborative tools is increasing, however many teachers are still new to what tools are available on the Internet and how to use them effectively.[2]


If Collaborative learning is the idea of bringing together learners to work and learn in a collaborative manner,[3] then Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) tools accomplish this task either synchronously or asynchronously. {See Asynchronous Learning} Online collaborative tools provide a central locale for these types of interactions.[4]

Some specific benefits of the utilization of web-based applications for collaborative learning include:[5][unreliable source?]

  • Saves time. Students can work either together or independently, either way contributing to the success of their group overall.
  • Develops oral and written communication and social interaction skills.
  • Allows for interactions with students outside their class, school, city, state and even country.
  • Prepares young students for upper grades and the technology tools they will be encountering there.
  • Allows for students who are unable to attend school to keep up with their peers.
  • Share ideas.
  • Increases student motivation.
  • Encourages different perspectives views.
  • Aids in metacognitive and evaluative thinking skill development.
  • Develops higher level, critical-thinking skills thanks to use of problem-solving approaches.
  • Encourages student responsibility for learning.
  • Establishes a sense of learning community.
  • Creates a more positive attitude about learning.
  • Promotes innovation in teaching and classroom techniques.
  • Enhances self management skills.
  • Develops skill building and practice. Common skills which often require a great deal of practice can be developed through these tools, and made less tedious through these collaborative learning activities in and out of class.
  • Develops social skills.

Available Tools

A variety of tools are available via the Internet to assist in online collaboration efforts.[6][7][8]


Wikis are a type of website in which users, such as students, can easily add, remove, or edit the content.

Application in education

Teachers can engage students by using wikis to create a space for collaborative essays. Students can posts their reflections and share information. Students working collaboratively on research projects can use wiki spaces as a depot for note taking, or to learn from other student research projects[9]. Teachers can also create a compendium of concepts for the course to use as a study guide. Wikis can serve as teacher or classroom webpages, with the added benefit that students themselves can edit the content. For example, students can change the page that displays the weeks' spelling words.


Blogs are interactive, online journals.

Application in education

Teachers may write a blog for students in their classrooms with links to Internet sites which aide in learning and/or research tasks. Teachers may have students use blogs as learning reflections, story writing, etc. Viewers can leave comments which aide the writer in his/her writing development.

Learning management systems

Learning management system (LMS) or course management systems (CMS) are an online package to help educators create effective online learning communities.

Application in education

Teachers can post discussion topics, questions, homework or resources in the forums, and answer questions or send messages online. Or they can set quizzes for test review. It can provide a secure place for email exchange. A CMS helps to establish a learning community online. For home-bound children, a CMS can provide the learning experience and collaborative opportunities missed in the classroom.

Survey systems

These tools allow the creation and administration of surveys completely online.

Applications in Education

These tools are great for both teachers and students. Surveys can easily be turned into quizzes with multiple choice answering, and open-ended questioning. The survey can render your results for you, and even synthesize and analyze the results into a variety of formats including charts and graphs.

Online Image/Video Sharing

These tools allow for the sharing of image and video files specifically and often allows commentary, dialogue and/or exchanges.

Application in education

Teachers and students can use these tools to discuss and analyze photos, videos, etc. Teachers and students can upload pictures or video from their computer, camera, or cell phone. It's a great place to store and organize photos and videos; however, it is not entirely secure. The students can then actively engage with the image and think about and discuss specific aspects. Specifically in applications such as Flickr, students can organize pictures by tags. As a collaboration project, teachers can encourage students to upload pictures about a topic, for example a world heritage site, and invite users to contribute tags to the images. In applications, such as VoiceThread, students can add voice and written commentary to the overall video, picture or document. The comments are sequenced, so that late-comers can follow the dialogue.

Video-conferencing/chat/file sharing applications

These are various applications which allow students from around the world to engage in synchronous conferencing through live video feeds, video replays, chatting, and/or voice.

Applications in Education

Teachers can create online working spaces for student groups within their classrooms, across classrooms, grade levels, school, states, the nation, and even the world. Students can work collaboratively on group assignments, and keep active communications ongoing with e-pals.

Online Collaborative Work spaces

Various web-based applications which allow groups of students to work together on common documents in various formats either synchronously or asynchronously. Many applications include to-do lists, calendars, and ample storage space. These spaces are not always secure, however. Some applications include blogs and wikis for group work, as well.

Application in Education

You can upload various types of documents or spreadsheets, even PowerPoint presentations in many applications and have students work entirely online asynchronously on a product. Partners and groups can be inside the same classroom, or across the country or world from one another.

Online Whiteboards

Various web-based applications which allow students to chat, while writing, drawing, demonstrating, etc. in/on an virtual whiteboard. Often these applications let you save what has been written on the whiteboard as a picture file, and/or print them[citation needed].

Application in Education

In these types of Web 2.0 tools[citation needed], students can brainstorm, create graphics together, and engage in peer-to-peer tutoring in skills and concepts such as multiplication or division. These can often be video-taped to show process, and/or saved as an image file and printed for review[citation needed].

Virtual worlds

Virtual worlds are areas online where students can interact with each other through avatars.

Application in Education

Virtual Worlds, such as Whyville, have great potential in education by providing fun, highly motivating, places for collaboration. In these virtual worlds new functions are constantly being added that provide additional utility to the system. This environment provides ample opportunity for social skills development and writing/reading skill development through a fun, non-intimidating manner.

Mind maps

Mind maps are diagrams used to represent words, ideas, tasks, or other items.

Application in education

Teachers can utilize brainstorming approaches that can generate ideas without regard for a more formal, hierarchical organization system. Notetaking, organizing, connecting, summarizing, revising, and general clarifying of thoughts can be accomplished with this tool.

Teacher's Role

[10] Instructors play a vital role in facilitating online collaborative learning. Researchers indicate that strong instructor support, frequent instructor-student interaction, and superior organizational skills are critical elements of successful online collaborative learning (Ku, Lohr, & Cheng, 2004). According to the Shank study, competencies of online instructors and those planning the use of online collaboration tools in the traditional classroom setting, are as follows:

  • Administrative—The primary goal is to assure smooth operations and reduce instructor and learner overload.
  • Design—The primary goal is to assure successful learning outcomes.
  • Facilitation—The primary goal is to provide social benefits and enhanced learning.
  • Evaluation—The primary goal is to assure that learners know how they will be evaluated and help learners meet objectives.
  • Technical—The primary goal is to assure that barriers due to technical components are overcome.

See also


  1. Srinivas, H (2008) Collaborative learning enhances critical thinking. Retrieved October 16, 2008, from The Global Development Research Center: Knowledge Management Web site:
  3. Gokhale, A. (1995). Collaborative learning enhances critical thinking.Journal of Technology Education, 7 (1) , Retrieved October 15, 2008, from
  4. Hsiao, J (1996). CSCL Theories. Retrieved October 15, 2008, from CSCL Theories Web site:
  5. Jakes, David (2008). JakesOnline!. Retrieved October 16, 2008, from JakesOnline! Web site:
  6. Summerford, S. (2008). Web 2.0 for the classroom. Retrieved October 16, 2008, from An Internet hotlist on Web 2.0 Web site:
  7. Web 2.0 in online Learning (2006). Retrieved October 16, 2008, from The Office of Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of Illinois at Springfield Website:
  8. (2008). Elementary School 2.0 . Retrieved October 16, 2008, from Classroom 2.0 Web site:
  9. Joshua M. Pearce, “Appropedia as a Tool for Service Learning in Sustainable Development”, Journal of Education for Sustainable Development, 3(1), pp.47-55, 2009.
  10. Shank, P (2008). Competencies for online instructors. Retrieved October 16, 2008, from Learning Peaks Web site:

External links

  • The International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning is a quarterly, peer-reviewed, ISI-indexed, online and hardcopy journal published by Springer. It is available through membership in ISLS (at Pre-publication versions of all articles are available for free at . It is edited by Gerry Stahl and Friedrich Hesse.
  • Gerry Stahl's CSCL web page contains links to articles, books, conferences, and other resources related to CSCL. It contains videos of several presentations at CSCL conferences.
  • Virtual Math teams web page contains a pre-publication version of a new book on CSCL -- "Studying Virtual Math Teams" by Gerry Stahl, Springer, 2009.
  • Group Cognition web page contains a pre-publication version of a recent book on CSCL -- "Group Cognition: Computer Support for Building Collaborative Knowledge" by Gerry Stahl, MIT Press, 2006.
  • Allan Jeong's web page contains links to empirical studies and software tools that use student labeled communications in CSCL to analyze, visualize, and identify sequential patterns in message-response exchanges (e.g., argument-challenge, challenge-explain) that trigger high level critical thinking and Cooperative Learning

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