Vol. 35 No. 1 (2020): Special Issue on Technology and Teacher Education
Special Issue

Technology Used to Support Learning in Groups

Dr. Barbara Brown
University of Calgary
Dr. Christy Thomas
University of Calgary

Published 2020-10-30

How to Cite

Brown, B., & Thomas, C. (2020). Technology Used to Support Learning in Groups. International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education Revue Internationale Du E-Learning Et La Formation à Distance, 35(1). Retrieved from https://www.ijede.ca/index.php/jde/article/view/1158


Abstract: Across disciplines, researchers recognize that working together in a small group can be a challenging learning activity, particularly in an online course where group members meet remotely. This 2-year, design-based research study focused on improving group work in both online and blended sections of an undergraduate course for pre-service teachers. Surveys were completed by instructors (N = 15) and students (N = 361) at three different junctures during the course to learn about how technologies were used by students and instructors to support group work. Interviews were also conducted at the end of the term to gather in-depth descriptions about the types of technologies and how they were used by students and instructors to support group work. Findings indicated that students and instructors selected a combination of technologies, including institutionally supported and mainstream applications such as shared workspaces to coordinate, track, and monitor group progress. Students and instructors also described using communication technologies to manage group challenges related to scheduling, communicating, and integrating tasks into the project. Findings contribute to our understanding about how technologies were used to support process and product when working on a group assignment.


Keywords: technology-supported, online, group work, group assignment, social interdependence, teacher education


Résumé: Dans toutes les disciplines, les chercheurs reconnaissent que travailler ensemble en petit groupe peut être une activité d'apprentissage stimulante, en particulier dans un cours en ligne où les membres du groupe se rencontrent à distance. Cette étude de recherche de deux ans basée sur la conception s'est concentrée sur l'amélioration du travail en groupe dans les sections en ligne et mixtes d'un cours de premier cycle pour les enseignants en formation. Des sondages ont été complétés par des instructeurs (N = 15) et des étudiants (N = 361) à trois moments différents pendant le cours pour apprendre comment les technologies étaient utilisées par les étudiants et les instructeurs pour soutenir le travail de groupe. Des entrevues ont également été menées à la fin du trimestre afin de recueillir des descriptions détaillées sur les types de technologies et la façon dont les technologies étaient utilisées par les étudiants et les instructeurs pour soutenir le travail de groupe. Les résultats ont indiqué que les étudiants et les enseignants ont choisi une combinaison de technologies, y compris des applications soutenues par l'établissement et des applications grand public, y compris des espaces de travail partagés pour coordonner, suivre et surveiller les progrès du groupe. Les étudiants et les instructeurs ont également décrit l'utilisation des technologies de communication pour gérer les défis de groupe liés à la planification, à la communication et à l'intégration des tâches dans le projet. Les résultats contribuent à notre compréhension de la façon dont les technologies ont été utilisées pour soutenir les processus et les produits lorsque nous réalisons un travail en groupe.


Mots-clés: soutenu par la technologie, en ligne, travail de groupe, affectation de groupe, interdépendance sociale, formation des enseignants



  1. Alberta Education. (2018). Teaching quality standard. https://education.alberta.ca/media/3739620/standardsdoc-tqs-_fa-web-2018-01-17.pdf
  2. Alqurashi, E. (2019). Technology tools for teaching and learning in real time. In J. Yoon and P. Semingson (Eds.), Educational technology and resources for synchronous learning in higher education (pp. 255–278). IGI Global. https://doi.org/10.4018/978-1-5225-7567-2
  3. Amiel. T., & Reeves, T. C. (2008). Design-based research and educational technology: Rethinking technology and the research agenda. Educational Technology & Society, 11(4), 29–40.
  4. https://www.jstor.org/stable/jeductechsoci.11.4.29
  5. Bandura, A. (2001). Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 1–26. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.psych.52.1.1
  6. Barab, S. (2014). Design-based research: A methodological toolkit for engineering change. In R. K. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (2nd ed., pp. 151–170). Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139519526.011
  7. Barkley, E. F., Cross, K. P., & Major, C. H. (2014). Collaborative learning techniques: A handbook for college faculty. John Wiley & Sons.
  8. Berlin, D., & White, A. (2012). A longitudinal look at attitudes and perceptions related to the integration of mathematics, science, and technology education. School of Science and Mathematics, 112(1), 20–30. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1949-8594.2011.00111.x
  9. Biasutti, M. (2011). The student experience of a collaborative e-learning university module. Computers & Education, 57(3), 1865–1875. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2011.04.006
  10. Bickle, M. C., & Rucker, R. (2018). Student-to-student interaction: Humanizing the online classroom using technology and group assignments. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 19(1), 1–11. https://www.infoagepub.com/qrde-issue.html?i=p5b3f64fa0e32d
  11. Boyle, J., Halpin, R., & Ji Hyland, C. (2019). Best practice in designing groupwork for first year students. Practitioner Research Project Report, TU Dublin. https://arrow.tudublin.ie/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1024&context=ltcpgdprp
  12. Brame, C. J., & Biel, R. (2015). Group work: Using cooperative learning groups effectively. Center for Teaching. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/setting-up-and-facilitating-group-work-using-cooperative-learning-groups-effectively/
  13. Brown, B., Hartwell, A., & Thomas, C. (2018). Interdisciplinary design teams of pre-service and in-service teachers: Issues with collaboration. Canadian Journal of Action Research, 19(1), 3–11. https://doi.org/10.33524/cjar.v19i1.371
  14. Clarke, S., & Blissenden, M. (2013). Assessing student group work: Is there a right way to do it? The Law Teacher, 43(3), 368–381. https://doi.org/10.1080/03069400.2013.851340
  15. Dai, D. Y. (Ed.). (2012). Design research on learning and thinking in educational settings: Enhancing intellectual growth and functioning. Routledge.
  16. Darling-Hammond, L., Barron, B., Pearson, P., Schoenfeld, A., Stage, E., Zimmerman, T., Cervetti, G., & Tilson, J. (2008). Powerful learning: What we know about teaching for understanding. Jossey-Bass.
  17. Deutsch, M. (1949). A theory of co-operation and competition. Human Relations, 2(2), 129–152. https://doi.org/10.1177/001872674900200204
  18. Donohoo, J. (2018). Collective teacher efficacy research: Productive patterns of behaviour and other positive consequences. Journal of Educational Change, 19, 323–345. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10833-018-9319-2
  19. Donohoo, J., & Katz, S. (2017). When teachers believe, students achieve: Collaborative inquiry builds teacher efficacy for better student outcomes. Learning Professional, 38(6), 20–27. https://learningforward.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/when-teachers-believe-students-achieve.pdf
  20. Donovan, T., Bates, T, Seaman, J., Mayer, D., Martel, E., Paul, R., Desbiens, B., Forssman, V., & Poulin, R. (2019). Tracking online and distance education in Canadian universities and colleges: 2018. Canadian Digital Learning Research Association. https://onlinelearningsurveycanada.ca/publications-2018/
  21. Eells, R. J. (2011). Meta-analysis of the relationship between collective teacher efficacy and student achievement [Doctoral dissertation, Loyola University]. Loyola eCommons Dissertations. https://ecommons.luc.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1132&context=luc_diss
  22. Friesen, S. (2009). What did you do in school today? Teaching effectiveness: A framework and rubric. Canadian Education Association. http://www.cea-ace.ca/publication/what-did-you-do-school-today-teaching-effectivenessframework-and-rubric
  23. Goddard, Y. L., Goddard, R. D., & Tschannen-Moran, M. (2007). A theoretical and empirical investigation of teacher collaboration for school improvement and student achievement in public elementary schools. Teachers College Record, 109(4), 877–896. http://www.tcrecord.org/Content.asp?ContentId=12871
  24. Gronseth, S., & Hebert, W. (2019). GroupMe: Investigating use of mobile instant messaging in higher education courses. TechTrends, 63(1), 15–22. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-018-0361-y
  25. Hammond, M. (2017). Online collaboration and cooperation: The recurring importance of evidence, rationale and viability. Education and Information Technologies, 22, 1005–1024. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10639-016-9469-x
  26. Hargreaves, A. (2019). Teacher collaboration: 30 years of research on its nature, forms, limitations and effects. Teachers and Teaching Theory and Practice, 25(5), 603–621. https://doi.org/10.1080/13540602.2019.1639499
  27. Hmelo, C. E., Chinn, C. A., Chan, C. K., & O’Donnell, A. (Eds.) (2013). The international handbook of collaborative learning. Routledge.
  28. Jacobsen, M., Lock, J., & Friesen, S. (2013). Strategies for engagement. EdCan Network. https://www.edcan.ca/articles/strategies-for-engagement/
  29. Jaques, D., & Salmon, G. (2007). Learning in groups: A handbook for face-to-face and online environments (4th ed.). Taylor & Francis Group.
  30. Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (2002). Learning together and alone: Overview and meta-analysis. Asia Pacific Journal of Education, 22(1), 95–105. https://doi.org/10.1080/0218879020220110
  31. Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (2005). New developments in social interdependence theory. Genetic, Social, and General Psychology Monographs, 131(4), 285–358. https://doi.org/10.3200/MONO.131.4.285-358
  32. Johnson, D., W., & Johnson, R. T. (2008). Social interdependence theory and cooperative learning: The teacher's role. In R. M. Gillies, A. F. Ashman, & J. Terwel (Eds.), The teacher’s role in implementing cooperative learning in the classroom (Vol. 7, Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, pp. 9–37). Springer US.
  33. Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Smith, K. A. (2014). Cooperative learning: Improving university instruction by basing practice on validated theory. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(3&4), 85–118. http://celt.miamioh.edu/ject/issue.php?v=25&n=3%20and%204
  34. Johnson, W. J., & Johnson, R. T. (2017). The use of cooperative procedures in teacher education and professional development, Journal of Education for Teaching, 43(3), 284–295. https://doi.org/10.1080/02607476.2017.1328023
  35. Johnson, D. W., & Johnson, R. T. (2018). Cooperative learning: The foundation for active learning. In S. M. Brito (Ed.), Active learning: Beyond the future. IntechOpen. http://dx.doi.org/10.5772/intechopen.81086
  36. Kleinsasser, R., & Hong, Y.-C. (2016). Online group work design: Processes, complexities, and intricacies. TechTrends, 60, 569–576. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11528-016-0088-6
  37. Koh, M.-H., & Hill, J. R. (2009). Student perceptions of group work in an online course:
  38. Benefits and challenges. Journal of Distance Education, 23(2), 69–92. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/285867454_Student_perceptions_of_group_work_in_an_online_course_Benefits_and_challenges
  39. Kristiansen, S. D., Burner, T., & Johnsen, B. H. (2019). Face-to-face promotive interaction leading to successful cooperative learning: A review study. Cogent Education, 6(1), 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1080/2331186X.2019.1674067
  40. Laal, M., Geranpaye, L., & Mahrokh, D. (2013). Individual accountability in collaborative learning. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 93, 286–289. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.09.191
  41. LaBeouf, J. P., Griffith, J. C., & Roberts, D. L. (2016). Faculty and student issues with group work: What is problematic with college group assignments and why? Journal of Education and Human Development, 5(1), 13–23. https://doi.org/10.15640/jehd.v5n1a2
  42. Lowes, S. (2014). How much “group” is there in online group work? Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 18(1). http://dx.doi.org/10.24059/olj.v18i1.373
  43. Mamas, C. (2018). Exploring peer relationships, friendships and group work dynamics in higher education: Applying social network analysis. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 42(5), 662–677. https://doi.org/10.1080/0309877X.2017.1302568
  44. Manathunga, K., & Hernández-Leo, D. (2015). Has research on collaborative learning technologies addressed massiveness? A literature review. Educational Technology & Society, 18(4), 357–370. www.jstor.org/stable/jeductechsoci.18.4.357
  45. McKenney, S., & Reeves, T. (2018). Conducting educational design research (2nd ed.). Routledge.
  46. Miles, M., Huberman, A., & Saldaña, J. (2014). Qualitative data analysis. A methods sourcebook (3rd ed.). SAGE Publications, Inc.
  47. OECD. (2018). Teaching for the future: Effective classroom practice to transform education. OECD Publishing. http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/9789264293243-en
  48. Rios, J. A., Ling, G., Pugh, R., Becker, D., & Bacall, A. (2020). Identifying critical 21st-century skills for workplace success: A content analysis of job advertisements. Educational Researcher, 49(2), 80–89. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X19890600
  49. Roberson, B., & Franchini, B. (2014). Effective task design for the TBL classroom. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 25(3&4), 275–302. http://celt.miamioh.edu/ject/issue.php?v=25&n=3%20and%204
  50. Ronfeldt, M., Farmer, S., McQueen, K., & Grissom, J. (2015). Teacher collaboration in instructional teams and student achievement. American Educational Research Journal, 52(3), 475–514. https://doi.org/10.3102/0002831215585562
  51. Roseth, C. J., Saltarelli, A. J., & Glass, C. R. (2011). Effects of face-to-face and computer-mediated constructive controversy on social interdependence, motivation, and achievement. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(4), 804–820. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0024213
  52. Saltarelli, A. J., & Roseth, C. J. (2014). Effects of synchronicity and belongingness on face-to-face and computer-mediated constructive controversy. Journal of Educational Psychology, 106(4), 946–960. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0036898
  53. Thom, M. (2020). Are group assignments effective pedagogy or a waste of time? A review of the literature and implications for practice. Teaching Public Administration, 38(3), 257–269. https://doi.org/10.1177/0144739420904396
  54. Thomas, C., & Brown, B. (2017). Strategies for successful group work. In A. P. Preciado Babb, Yeworiew, L., & Sabbaghan, S. (Eds.), Selected proceedings of the IDEAS 2017 Conference: Leading educational change (pp. 37–46). Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary. http://dx.doi.org/10.11575/PRISM/5342
  55. Thomas, C., & Brown, B. (2019). Developing pre-service teachers’ leadership capacity through group work. International Studies in Educational Administration, 47(2), 37–57. https://csse-scee.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/12/ISEA_2019_472.pdf
  56. Tiplic, D., Brandmo, C., & Elstad, E. (2015). Antecedents of Norwegian beginning teachers’ turnover intentions. Cambridge Journal of Education, 45(4), 451–474.
  57. https://doi.org/10.1080/0305764X.2014.987642