The University of Waikato (NEW ZEALAND)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2010 Proceedings
Publication year: 2010
Pages: 1719-1729
ISBN: 978-84-614-2439-9
ISSN: 2340-1095
Conference name: 3rd International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 15-17 November, 2010
Location: Madrid, Spain
Many universities both in Malaysia and abroad are enthusiastically embracing some sort of Content Management System or Virtual Learning Environment in teaching and learning, either at both undergraduate and graduate level. However, online teaching and learning requires a different strategy to traditional classroom teaching and learning, in which the instructor controls all teaching and learning. Simply providing students with online access to learning materials and replicating a classroom model of teacher-centred learning is inadequate. Research advocates online learning move towards a model of student-centred learning in which social collaboration among students is encouraged.

The study reported in this paper presents the preliminary findings of research investigating the implementation of an online collaborative learning environment in a Malaysian university, which aims to promote student-centred learning through active online participation among Malaysian undergraduate pre-service teachers. The intervention was designed to facilitate group work assignments and to encourage online collaboration among Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics students. The students formed into groups of 4-6 with a total of nine groups involved. The collaborative group work was provided online and the students engaged in online group and inter-group discussions before producing a group report. The discussions had three phases: idea generating, idea linking and intellectual convergence (Harasim, 2004).

The research uses Activity Theory to understand the context as the Activity System within three broad aspects; technology, pedagogy and social, in integrating the designated intervention at the classroom level. It seeks to identify the contradictions within the Activity System and discusses potential outcomes that emerged from it. Multiple strategies were employed for data collection. An anonymous online questionnaire was distributed at the start and at the end of the course, asking about students’ perceptions of learning online through the online collaborative learning environment. Each variable in each theme was presented and grouped under five components of Activity Theory (Tool, Subject, Rule, Community and Division of labour). Focus group interviews were conducted after the students had completed their first group work assignment. Other data were from instructors’ interviews, online transcripts of students’ discussions and students’ journals. These data were collected in order to triangulate the findings and to help researcher to assess the extent to which the intervention was successful in facilitating group work learning experiences.

The initial findings from the questionnaires point to a positive view of learning online through the online collaborative learning environment for each of the themes. However, students reported problems and difficulties in using e-learning as a learning tool because of technical problems, and Internet availability and capacity in the campus. These problems indirectly affect their motivation to participate in online group works.
e-learning, CSCL, Online Learning, ICT in Education and Activity Theory.