Effects of different explanation prompts on computer-supported collaborative learning in a case-based environment
Research on collaborative learning suggests the importance of discourse, particularly student-generated explanations, in successful collaboration. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of different explanation prompts in facilitating asynchronous computer-supported collaborative learning in a case-based environment. Students from two equivalent educational psychology courses were randomly assigned to three conditions: prompts for theory-based reasons, prompts for reasons, and control. Within each condition, students took a survey on demographics and need for cognition, then engaged in a week-long web-based discussion of a problem-based case assigned in small groups of three or four, and finally submitted online their individual analysis of the case as well as a self-report of their discussion experience. Content analysis of the case discussion indicated that students who received prompts for theory-based reasons before posting messages had more claims supported by theories, though occasionally with errors, and fewer claims without support or with poor non-theory-based support than those who received prompts for reasons only or no prompt. However, students across all conditions engage mostly in shallow collaboration by sharing ideas with little effort to integrate different perspectives. Higher need for cognition was somewhat related to more acknowledgment of multiple perspectives. The treatment conditions were not significantly related to case analysis quality, either. Though more students in the condition with prompts for theory-based reasons referred to relevant theories, case analyses generally lacked critical thinking. Most students focused on presenting implementation plans and some evidence for their proposed solutions to the case problem, with little consideration of alternatives or critical evaluation of different solutions. Qualitative results based on student self-reports suggested both treatment groups perceived generally more learning gains from the discussion than the control group. Limitations of the research are discussed. Findings have implications for pre-service teacher training and facilitation of computer-supported collaborative learning. Future research is still needed to further clarify the role that discourse plays in learning from collaboration.
0710: Educational software