Computer Supported Collaborative Learning: Best Practices and Principles for Instructors

Stephen M. Mutula (University of Zululand, Kwadlangezwa, South Africa)

Online Information Review

ISSN: 1468-4527

Article publication date: 20 June 2008




Mutula, S.M. (2008), "Computer Supported Collaborative Learning: Best Practices and Principles for Instructors", Online Information Review, Vol. 32 No. 3, pp. 453-454.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Section 1 sets the pace for this work. It consists of two chapters: “Designing web‐based training courses to maximize learning” compares the effectiveness of web‐based instruction and classroom instruction (CI); “Collaborative vs cooperative learning: the instructor's role in computer supported collaborative learning” brings out the differences between collaborative and cooperative learning and the role of instructors.

Section 2, student development case studies (Chapters 3‐7), opens with “Developing a community of practice in an online research lab”, which presents instructor and student perspectives on developing communities of practice and strategies for enhancing a sense of community among students. Chapters 4 and 5 discuss case method as one of the pedagogical approaches for teaching online courses, and also methods of supporting the instructor in the development of learner‐learner interaction. Chapter 6 focuses on issues that affect the success of collaborative online learning, while Chapter 7 discusses the psychological phenomena – (social loafing, social categorization and cognitive distortions) in online group work.

The two chapters in Section 3 (professional development) discuss principles of adult learning and the theory of collaboration, and examine trade‐offs that should be made in developing an online teamwork skills scenario‐based training for geographically dispersed instructors and students. In Section 4 (diversity in CSCL) the three chapters look, respectively, at the impact of diversity in learner‐learner interactions in collaborative virtual teams from a social and cultural perspective; the role of peer reviewing as a form of collaborative online learning in higher education; and collaborative learning in cross‐national and cross‐university virtual teams. Finally, the two chapters in Section 5 (looking forward) examine how shared mental models are developed through social‐ and task‐oriented interactions among students, and then various types of learner engagement.

The book is written in simple, jargon‐free English, with chapters logically sequenced, making reading and relating different topics covered therein easy. Most chapters start with an abstract and end with a summary, areas for further research, recommendations, a conclusion and a list of references. The book has a basic, six‐page subject index; however, for a book of this size and complexity one would expect to see a more extensive index to enable the user to locate finer aspects of the content. Moreover, lack of an author index makes it difficult for users to find particular content associated with certain authors in the text. A good attempt has gone into defining key concepts at places where they are used within the text. However, a separate list of acronyms and glossary of key terms would enable the reader quickly to identify sought concepts. Similarly, though a good attempt has been made to provide illustrations using tables and figures, more illustrations would reflect the diverse content of this work. Also, there are a several errors of omission or misplacement of words that more careful editing should have corrected. These errors and shortcomings notwithstanding, this book occupies a significant place in online education literature. It is based on empirical research supported by extensive, critically‐analysed literature reviews that identify gaps and suggest areas of further research. The strong empirical basis of this text sets it apart from most similar texts in the discipline, which are based on secondary or anecdotal evidence. Moreover, the cutting‐edge topics covered and the authoritativeness of the diverse and highly‐qualified contributors make it essential reading for anyone in academia, government departments and research centres engaged in the theory or practice of computer‐supported learning.

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