Reviewed By: Loren Reese, Kara Trella, Maryanne Doran, Melissa Horton, and Brittany Ely
Link to article: http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/1768/3124
Article synopsis and core research questions
Muuro, Wagacha, Kihoro, & Oboko (2014) examined student perceived challenges of using online collaborative tools, such as Moodle and Blackboard, on Web 2.0 (and social media) while pursuing higher education in Nairobi, Kenya. The article states that online learning has risen in popularity in Kenya as a result of the increased demand of higher education. It goes on to address issues of faculty and infrastructure support for e-learning.
Using a questionnaire, a survey was conducted in two public universities and two private universities to identify perceived challenges by student respondents in their online collaborative learning environment. The authors state that three primary questions guided their research design: To what extent do students collaborate online while doing group work? What are the components of online collaborative learning, which learners perceive as challenging? And, is there any significant relationship between university type (public or private) and the perceived challenges in using an online collaborative learning environment? (Murro et al., 2014).
In their literature review, the authors focused on a philosophy of education termed constructivist theory, in that learning is an active process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current/past knowledge. In seeking to define the term collaborative learning, the authors deferred to the 1999 Dillenbourg book Collaborative-learning: Cognitive and Computational Approaches, which states that collaborative learning is a, “situation in which two or more people learn or attempt to learn something together.” Adding that the situation is collaborative if the participant learners are relatively at the same level and, “can perform the same actions, have a common goal and work together” (Dillenbourg, 1999).
Among various issues, five were identified as major challenges, these were: lack of feedback from instructors, lack of feedback from peers, lack of time to participate, slow internet connectivity, and low or no participation of other group members.
The goal of the research was to inform educators in Kenya as to how they can improve collaborative online learning to provide the best possible education success.
Methods used to answer the research question
The researchers relied on a descriptive survey, which allowed for the accurate summation of the varied and complex experiences of the study participants, and created a body of data that was substantial enough to enable meaningful statistical analysis. The questionnaire that they developed was based on conceptual elements that were brought to light in the literature review, and consisted of thirty questions. All but one of these survey items required Likert scale or multiple choice fixed responses, with just one open-ended question in which respondents were asked to describe their worst online group experiences.
The respondents were students at two public and two private Kenyan universities, and with the assistance of instructors, a purposive sample group of 210 students was identified, all of whom were taking at least one online course or module. Assistance from one or more experts was solicited to streamline the wording and content of the questionnaire. After a period of two weeks was allowed for students to complete the online questionnaire, there was an 87% response rate (Muuro et al., 2014). The authors noted that not all of the data analysis that they performed was included in this paper, and may eventually be included as an important component of a larger future study (Murro et al., 2014).
Findings and conclusions
The research found multiple issues the students faced with collaborate work at the Kenyan universities. The largest issues related to the ability to access online work and the lack of participation among group members.
Despite Nairobi, Kenya having one of the best internet infrastructures in the country, 30% of the participants reported unreliable internet service, which made accessing and participating in group work challenging (Murro et al., 2014). Murro et al (2014) report if places like Nairobi do not have adequate infrastructure, then not only does it need to be improved there, but in other areas of Kenya as well, so that more people can have the opportunity to go to a higher education institution.
Other issues that students had were finding time to participate in group work and lack of feedback from their instructors. Over 50% claimed that finding time was an issue and 47% claimed they were not getting enough feedback from their professors (Murro et al., 2014).
Unanswered questions and what future research might address
This study acknowledges that future studies should “adopt large scale empirical approaches” to encompass different universities and regions in Kenya (Muuro et al., 2014). Since the fiber optic network is well established in Nairobi, further studies are necessary to gauge internet connectivity in other regions and countries beyond Nairobi. The ability of users to join/utilize social networking sites to link with other students and faculty would be an interesting area of future research, as these types of sites could be crucial to online support and student success and retention.
Other possible future studies include investigating the effect of collaborative learning and critical thinking skills as well as, “improving the level of knowledge constructed in blended e-learning platforms”(Muuro et al., 2014). Challenges faced in using online collaborative tools, as well as determining the correlation between teaching ideologies and effective instruction, are areas that merit further examination. Ways to increase instructor involvement with collaborative work in order to support online students more effectively would also be interesting questions for subsequent projects.
This study reported a gap between workload distribution between online collaborative groups in public versus private universities. Public university students reported less issues with workload sharing than private universities (Muuro et al., 2014). One theory proposed for this discrepancy, is the ability of public university students to work independently, with less instructor oversight, than private university students. Future research could reveal the root causes of this difference and provide interesting theories in this area.
Although the research for this survey asked for demographic information, it was not used to analyze the results. But for this issue, and perhaps others, it might help to theorize why these are issues for the students. More in depth findings could result in looking at how gender, age, geographical region, education background, and socioeconomic levels affect the responses. There might be patterns among students with similar demographics that could point to areas that need improving in order to help students do collaborative work successfully.
Dillenbourg, P. (1999). Collaborative Learning: Cognitive and Computational Approaches. Advances in Learning and Instruction Series. Elsevier Science, Inc.
Muuro, M. E., Wagacha, W. P., Kihoro, J., & Oboko, R. (2014). Students’ perceived challenges in an online collaborative learning environment: A case of higher learning institutions in Nairobi, Kenya. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 15(6).