27.5. An insight into collaborative learning with ICT: Teachers' and students' perspectives

Public examination of a doctoral dissertation in the field of education.

Doctoral candidate: Teemu Valtonen, M.Ed.

Date and venue: Friday, 27.5.2011 at 12 noon in Carelia C2, Joensuu Campus.


This dissertation concentrates on collaborative learning with information and communication technology (ICT) from teachers’ and students’ perspectives. The development of learning with ICT has evolved from software supporting students’ individual learning based on mechanical drills to more advanced micro-worlds, cognitive tools and learning environments. Especially the advantages of ICT for supporting students’ collaborative learning have broken through; different ICT solutions provide tools for collaboration both in the classroom setting and on distance courses. This dissertation discusses the topic from two perspectives. Teachers’ perspective focuses especially on the research area of teacher thinking. Students’ perspective focuses on the phenomenon of net generation. The aim is to provide an insight into collaborative learning with ICT in the Finnish context, to identify the strong areas and limitations in order to provide information and concrete building blocks for developing collaborative learning with ICT in schools.

The first part of the dissertation discusses two studies that focus on teacher thinking, concentrating especially on conceptions of learning and technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPCK). These studies shed light on how the theories of collaborative learning show in teachers’ thinking and work. The second part of the dissertation presents three studies that focus on students’ perspectives on collaborative learning with ICT in the context of the net generation phenomenon. Net generation students are assumed to have unique ways of learning and ways of using different technologies. These assumptions align with the theories of collaborative learning with ICT. The aim of the second part is to illustrate how the assumed characteristics of the net generation show in eastern Finland.

In all, this dissertation consists of five studies. Two of the studies draw on qualitative methods (studies I and II), one study is based only on quantitative methods (study V) and two studies employ both qualitative and quantitative methods, i.e., a mixed method (studies III and IV). In general, this dissertation can be defined as a mixed method study. Methods to gather and analyse research data are based on the specific features of the research topics and aims of the studies. Research data was gathered from different school levels. Research data in studies discussing teachers’ perspective was gathered in polytechnic and upper secondary schools. Data for studies concentrating on net generation was gathered in upper secondary and vocational schools and in a university. Methods employed for gathering data were online questionnaires, recorded interviews and course design sessions, and teachers’ essays. Data also included online courses made by upper secondary level teachers and learning unit descriptions made by student teachers.  

Results concerning teacher thinking are somewhat contradictory to the theories of collaborative learning with ICT. The results indicate that teachers’ conceptions of learning and technological pedagogical content knowledge do not necessarily fully correspond with the theories of collaborative learning. Results indicate that even though collaborative learning has been described as a mantra for knowledge age education, it is not evident for all teachers. The first study indicates that online courses at the upper secondary level left collaborative learning in a minor part. The courses and online learning environments designed by teachers mainly supported the transmission of knowledge from teacher to students. Collaborative learning activities were only taken advantage of on few courses. Mostly, collaborative learning activities seemed to appear as an extra element at the side of the main learning activities that were based on transmitting of knowledge. Challenges of collaborative learning with ICT also came up in the second study. Teachers’ conceptions of learning varied from conceptions stressing teachers’ central role in transmitting knowledge to the students to conceptions of learning that stress the importance of students’ active role in the learning process, making decisions and collaborating with their peers.

Even though collaborative learning with ICT seems challenging, the results open interesting possibilities for the future. The results from study II indicated that some teachers experienced online learning environments as a “change agent” triggering reflective thinking about teaching methods. ICT changed teachers’ normal working environments leading them to reconsider their teaching methods and the nature of learning. This result provides interesting possibilities for developing teaching and learning in schools toward a more collaborative direction with ICT.

Results from studies III, IV and V are twofold: while they contradict some of the assumptions concerning the net generation, some of the results are consistent with them. It seems that most of the students are familiar with different social software. Most of the students also evaluate their ICT skills rather high. Also, student teachers’ pedagogical knowledge indicates emphasis toward collaborative teaching and learning practices. However, it seems that students do not necessarily see the possibilities of ICT and different online environments as tools for learning. This is a challenge. Although the assumptions presented in earlier writings argue that the net generation students would prefer and be willing to study with ICT, the results of these studies reveal a slightly different picture regarding students’ preferences and ICT skills. What the results do indicate, however, is that there is potential that schools and teachers should take advantage of.

In sum, based on the results of the five studies, it seems that collaborative learning with ICT poses challenges mostly for teachers. However, the results brought up features that can be used for developing teaching and learning in schools toward a more collaborative direction by taking advantage of different ICT tools, students’ skills and available software. First, for some teachers ICT prompted reflective thinking leading them to reconsider and evaluate their ways to teach and support students’ learning. New tools and a new environment directed them to question their teaching routines. Second, most of the students seem to have fairly good ICT skills. Most of the students also seem to be familiar with using and communicating in different online environments, especially social software. These results indicate that even though they are not necessarily taking advantage of ICT when it comes to learning, they have a good starting point to do so. Different social software that students are already fairly familiar with can be seen as one possibility for activating teachers’ thinking and thus developing teaching and learning toward collaborative practices with ICT.


Valtonen, Teemu

An insight into collaborative learning with ICT: Teachers' and students' perspectives

Joensuu, University of Eastern Finland, 2011.

Publications of the University of Eastern Finland. Dissertations in Education, Humanities,

and Theology; 12

ISSN: 1798-5625 (print)

ISSN: 1798-5633 (PDF)

ISBN: 978-952-61-0388-4 (print)

ISBN: 978-952-61-0389-1 (PDF)

ISSNL: 1798-5625 (print)

ISSNL: 1798-5625 (PDF)





Publishing year: 2011

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