B. Kopp1, A. Kutter2, H. Mandl1

1Ludwig-Maximilians-University (GERMANY)
2Pedagogical Highschool Weingarten (GERMANY)
This study investigates the role of dropout in virtual collaboration. In particular the main objective is whether there is a difference between groups with dropout versus groups without dropout relating to their group performance. Dropout in virtual collaboration is a common phenomenon as learners do not have to deal with negative consequences when they suddenly leave the group. Reasons why learners no longer participate in the group are various, e. g. the lack of time because of being distracted by different tasks, a lack of an adequate management of the e-learning course, or a lack of motivation. Despite of these reasons, there is still the question whether the remaining group members suffer from this dropout and if yes, how they do so. In this context, group performance is of great relevance. Group performance is based on the task solutions of all group members and indicates the effectiveness of the group. As the main purpose of groups is to solve tasks successfully together, this success is of main importance for the groups. Dropout reduces the amount of group members and their contributions which may affect performance negatively. Furthermore, groups have to coordinate their task solving process in a new way when group members suddenly leave the group that influences group performance in a negative way. Thus, the main question we investigate is whether there are differences between groups with dropout versus groups without dropout in respect of their group performance.

To gain further insights, we evaluated the seminar “Development and Implementation of virtual Learning Scenarios” at two points in time during the winter term 2012/2013. Thirty-eight participants mainly studying pedagogy were asked to evaluate the virtual seminar in a survey rating their group processes at two points of time. These 38 participants were randomly assigned to six groups. Four groups consisted of six members; two groups consisted of seven members. They received the first online questionnaire to be filled-in exactly in the middle of the semester, and the second at the end of the semester. To measure dropout, we asked participants whether there was a change of participants in their group. We also investigated group performance using all 36 task solutions of the groups. These task solutions were rated according to a specific coding scheme including all relevant aspects of each task. These solutions were validated by two persons with sufficient inter-rater reliability.

Results based on t-test analysis showed that groups with dropout significantly differ from groups without dropout in their performance showing that groups with dropout achieve lower scores than groups without dropout in four out of six tasks. This means that group members suffer from a change of participants in their group in such a way that they are not as effective in their performance as groups without dropout. As dropout is a phenomenon that takes place very often, this result is of main importance for the group outcome. Thus, dropout should be avoided in virtual settings to increase group performance. In this context, the role of the e-tutor is of great relevance. First, the e-tutor may be able to manage the virtual learning setting in such a way that the learners are satisfied with it, second, he may increase the learners’ motivation with adequate extrinsic incentives, and third he may reduce the learners’ time problems in concretely formulating the requirements of the course.