Topic 4 Digital technologies for the enhancement of collaboration and tools

Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) emerged as a means of learning and instruction that can foster the social nature of learning using a variety of technological and pedagogical strategies. CSCL is built on the premise that collaborative knowledge construction and problem solving can effectively be assisted by technology.

Learning has always been assisted by tools and technologies, but the recent proliferation of digital technologies makes the role of those tools even more critical. 

Modern researchers noted the fundamental roles of external representations and tools in carrying out cognitive functions. These realizations helped CSCL researchers make the distinction between learning “with” and “from” computers, and focused the development of tools that can amplify, extend, and enhance what learner groups and communities understand and do in the process of learning and solving problems (Kirschner & Erkens, 2006).

ICT favors collaboration in a learning situation. They facilitate ubiquitous and asynchronous processes and contribute to guaranteeing access to “learning without discrimination and on equal terms” Universal design for learning and ICTs, expanding the possibilities of communication and information processing, can, indeed, guarantee all people’s contribution to learning processes, regardless of their abilities and specific conditions. Under these premises, collaboration will create links of positive interdependence and responsibility, which in turn encourage greater awareness and greater control of the learning process. This synergy would correspond to what Wenger (1998) called a community of practice, that according to whom is created around three essential elements:

(1) shared understanding, continually renegotiated by its members,

(2) mutual commitment, which unites its members in a cohesive group,

(3) a shared repertoire of shared resources as a result of a shared practice.



When it comes to the supports for CL, we need to note that it can come in many different forms. The nature of these supports is likely to vary depending on whether learners collaborate face-to-face, synchronously or asynchronously. Instructional design may consider different tools to promote collaborative learning. Among the most common, we could mention:

(1) forums, considered useful tools for developing the cognitive dimension and the reasoning of the participants;

(2) social networks, that foster the sense of community of students, thanks to their existing habits, their sense of belonging, and the social presence of fellow students in their online community;

(3) collaborative annotation allow learners “to collaborate efficiently in annotating digital texts to add valued information, to share ideas… create knowledge by reading digital texts with annotations”;

(4) collaborative authoring, as wikis “for writing online a text in collaboration”, that share with other collaborative authoring tools features like rapidity, simplicity, convenience, open-source, and maintainability;

(5) blogs, that can be useful as platforms “for the collection of educational resources such as journals and as a space for the discussion of specific topics.”

(6) e-portfolios, “a personal digital record that contains evidence about “one’s accomplishments in the form of artifacts and reflection on learning”

This online collaboration software not only enhances organization in learning projects, but significantly improves communication and collaboration among distantly located members of a learning group. They can quickly and informally communicate through group chat, raise various issues and these get resolved quite fast. They can effortlessly share files, documents and information.

This collaborative web-based tool enables groups to do planning or brainstorming on one mind map document during the early phases of group work. Groups can also use the document for collaborating during the course of a project as per the nature of their assignment. Besides mind maps, it offers various templates, SWOT analysis, project planning and others. It has got the live chat feature for direct and fast communication.

This web conferencing service facilitates communication among learning group members through webinars. Webinars can be flexibly conducted from any location at present or in the future. Members can discuss over matters in real time. Members/contacts can be invited to participate in a webinar through automatic email invitations. Webinars can be tracked through calendar.

Attractive and engaging presentations can be created with this web-based presentation tool and can be accessed from anywhere. Members in a learning group can collaboratively work on one presentation document. Each document has got a specific URL which can be submitted to an instructor for easy viewing. This application can be embedded within discussion forums of learning management system platforms or web pages. Presentations and slides can be shared and reused. Invites can be sent for sharing presentations. SlideRocket analytics helps to measure a presentation’s effectiveness by giving information about who viewed it and what was their response.

This online collaboration tool facilitates creation of meaningful documents. Documents can be written, edited, collaborated upon and accessed from any remote location at any time and from various devices. Links, images, tables and drawings can be added into the documents. Changes get automatically saved in documents as being typed upon. By referring revision history of a document, its old versions can be seen and can be sorted by date.. Members of a learning group can work together in the same document. It also offers chat and commenting options.

A collaborative approach focused on joint activity in teaching and learning environments, requires that technical and social affordances are defined according to the nature of collaborative activities conceived from the techno-pedagogical design. It is unlikely that a single platform can meet the interaction needs of this joint activity. Therefore, it is necessary to be able to incorporate other tools into virtual educational environments when needed. Besides, it is required to provide openness so that students can incorporate those tools with which they are familiar, among which undoubtedly instant messaging, various social networks, and collaborative authoring tools are included, to facilitate communication and collaborative knowledge production.

Finally, it is necessary to have reflective evaluation processes that allow for the accountability of the group and each of its members.