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Collaborative Interaction

December 30, 2009

Collaborative interaction – what it is

Collaboration is to online education what a toothbrush is to dental health. One may use a variety of methods to maintain and promote dental hygiene but without the instrumentality of a toothbrush and the brushing of one’s teeth, the margin of diminishing utility will favor neither. Palloff and Pratt (2005) identified the process of collaboration with a well-defined community that includes a group of individuals with common interests, experiences, and goals. Ted Panitz viewed collaboration as a philosophy of interaction and personal lifestyle where the collaborators are responsible for their learning and demonstration of respect for the abilities and contributions of peers. In this article, Panitz compares collaborative learning with cooperative learning to help understand the concepts of interactive learning. Palloff and Pratt limited interaction to the ‘student-to-student’ and ‘student-to-instructor’ aspects that have become the hallmark of online learning. However, by including material that facilitates active learning online, this interaction becomes interactivity. Puntambekar (2006) identified divergence, shared understanding, and construction of knowledge as the key components of the social process of collaborative interaction. (Read abstract to Puntambekar’s article here). Using these three elements, one may further analyze and quantify how collaborative interactions contribute toward the construction of knowledge, experience, and the community of collaborators.

How has collaborative interaction evolved?

One may trace the evolution of collaboration in terms of the key components that Puntambekar identified. Students bring divergent ideas to a face-to-face or online classroom. Since one of the general educational goals include the students’ development of critical thinking skills, collaborative interaction becomes one method to synthesize divergent ideas in order to contribute toward this development by allowing the construction of their knowledge experiences. (Go here for entries on the constructivist approach and constructivism in the context of education). Byproducts of collaboration progressively result in individual reflection, co-creation of meaningful knowledge, and “transformative learning” thus leading to the development of a collaborative community (Paloff & Pratt, 2003, p. 35). The discussion breakout groups of the face-to-face classroom have evolved into the online counterpart that time, space, or global diversity no longer limit. The need to communicate course definitions, content, and methodology, among other things, among students and between students and their instructors have led to the development of various platforms for collaborations.

Tools available to facilitate collaborative interaction

Lina Lee’s article ( highlighted the perspectives for learners on networked collaborative interaction with native speakers of Spanish. Lee identified the process as networked collaborative interaction (NCI). The basic idea of networked computers with a common interface and a common language is all that it took for a group whose members were widely spread to initiate, maintain, and utilize collaborative interaction. Another illustration of collaborative application is Berkeley’s elaborate website (, which is the gateway to an online community of practice that actively seeks out and experiments with free and educationally valuable tools on the internet. (Go to Ruben Quinones’ blog for a description of Google documents, Zoho Suite, and Thinkfree

More recent collaboration tools include Cisco’s tool ( to share ideas, documents, presentations, applications, with anyone, anywhere using integrated voice conferencing, video streaming, and recording meetings all for a reasonable monthly fee. A similar tool is the popular GoToMeeting ( where one may deliver online training, meet and collaborate, make a sales presentation from across the globe for a flat fee. A common tool today is  where collaborators can edit a common document, upload images and files, link to pages on the web, and use unlimited number of pages for a variety of collaborative uses. This online collaboration website has numerous features that make it as easy to use as it is effective in outcome. Go here ( to read David Andrade, a Physics teacher and educational technology specialist’s brief description of Scribblar, an online whiteboard.

Analysis and critique of blogs on collaboration and online education

Terence Armentano ( includes a variety of resources and his take on several online aspects of education at his blogspot. As an educator and teacher-trainer, Terence identified a variety of issues that are pertinent to success in distant learning (see his 9/17/09 entry). I do not agree with his view that the presence of one’s voice on the web liberates the information that universities had “hoarded” in the past. This voice is a mere expression of one, single megaphone of personality, need, and experience that others hear based on the commonality of community. I agree that the sudden outgrowth of online courseware attests to the need that information is no longer a commodity by itself but the interaction with experts and one’s peers giving it the value that it deserves in the context in which it flourishes.

In this learning community, e-collaboration members work in dairy development organizations based in the Netherlands. The purpose of this blog ( see 2/16/09 entry) is to share stories about experiences with working over the internet. I found this idea to be useful in that it fostered individuals growing to know each other, preparing for the learning event by sharing and discussing case studies online, organizing the logistics, and disseminating the validated information. The education organizers created a wiki to keep themselves informed and to plan for up-scaling dairy development. I think the organizers should have extended the use of the wiki to all participants and encouraged their individual input to mirror true collaboration. It appears the hierarchy of the earlier traditional methods employed appears to have found equivalency in form and function in the wiki created by and for the organizers. For collaboration to be effective, each participant must have equal access and opportunity in the process of achieving specific learning objectives.


Palloff, R. M. & Pratt, K. (2003). The virtual student: A profile and guide to working with online learners. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.

Palloff, R. M. & Pratt, K. (2005). Collaborating online: Learning together in community. San Francisco, CA: Josey-Bass.

Putambekar, S. (2006). Analyzing collaborative interactions: Divergence, shared understanding, and construction of knowledge. Computers and Education, 47(3), 332-351.

David Abraham

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Suzanne G. permalink
    December 31, 2009 8:49 pm

    I really liked how you differentiated the online collaboration process. Having another way to make that connection is very helpful.

  2. Kimberly C Davis permalink
    January 3, 2010 4:32 am

    Collaboration is to online education as tires are to a car, you cannot get ANYWHERE without them. My corny analogy but there is absolutely no way a learner can successfully achieve to their highest potential online without collaborative interaction. I agree with Ted Panitz on his definition of collaboration, which was mainly shared responsibility. How much responsibility should be placed on the learner and on the collaborative interaction as far as familiarity with collaborative social software? When using Wiki spaces for the first time for another online course for Walden, I spent hours trying to figure out how it worked and got discourage and did not figure it out until the next day, when it was too late. I understood the responsibility placed on me as far as posting information to my Wiki account and commenting on my peers, however my lack of knowledge associated with the social software hindered me from performing. Needless to say, I am a computer teacher…interesting you may say!

    It is important that computer education be taught to the students to enhance their ability to use electronic information and communicate more effectively using computer resources (Ameh, Kene, & Ameh, 2008). Since social softwares are at an all time high on the secondary and post secondary level, should students be required to take computer classes? In my county, it is required as far as students taken computer related courses. Sometimes those classes are not the classes that actual expose students to useful ways to use social softwares. Computer Applications is a course that would expose students to these softwares such as blogs and wikis so that when they enter post secondary education that have the proper training.

    Kimberly Davis

    Ameh, N., Kene, T., & Ameh, E. A. (2008). Computer knowledge amongst clinical year medical students in a resource poor setting. African Health Sciences , 40-43.

  3. Tim Powell permalink
    January 4, 2010 9:49 pm

    Excellent post, Abraham! Good content and a lot of great links.


  4. February 24, 2010 7:38 pm

    Differentiating collaboration within online education is very important. Being able to do this gives the learners opportunities to show what they know and their own ways of expressing this knowledge. In an online environment, collaboration and communication is very important. The classes are not face-to-face,therefore, the communication must be ongoing so that everyone stays on top of things and know what’s going on and taking place.

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