Qualities of Engagement of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning in the Media Arts: A Case Study in Higher Education (draft-in-progress)


In seeking to improve our understanding of the nexus between Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) and learner engagement, the central focus of this study concerns the processes through which a group collaborates in a prototypical CSCL environment unprecedented in its design and curricular enactment in undergraduate education at the time of writing. Representing a unique case in CSCL research, the purpose of this case study is to describe and elucidate the nature of academic engagement with the media arts in an intensely networked CSCL environment, which could potentially herald a paradigm shift in the implementation of CSCL in higher education. Drawing on a qualitative single case analysis, I intend to gather details about learners’ ways of entering into and sustaining their involvement with the media arts in a CSCL environment. The problem to be investigated is the influence of a sociable CSCL environment on learner engagement in the teaching and learning of studio-based media art in undergraduate education.

Overview of Study

Situated at the School of Art, Design and Media (ADM), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore, this study seeks to fill the gap in CSCL research about how intensely networked interactive CSCL environments, can heighten collaborative engagement, and open new potentialities for collaborative research and peer-to-peer artistic praxis in the media arts. This study is an in-depth qualitative single case analysis that will describe and interpret learners’, faculty members’ and professional artists’ responses to a cutting edge CSCL approach — known as the Open Source Studio (OSS) project — to teach studio-based media art through the liminality of the Third Space. In illuminating the conceptual and pragmatic understandings of how this CSCL platform is used to engender and amplify collective processes of learning and creative activity in the liminal space, this inquiry could potentially yield new insights into the nature of learner engagement, and the mediating role it plays in the CSCL of the media arts. This empirical study attempts to contribute to our understanding of how CSCL environments can be designed and implemented, to catalyze and syncretize the creative and social-emotional processes (vitally important to learner engagement, as well as artistic expression and representation) unfolding within the Third Space. Essentially, this case study will try to illuminate the set of decisions that guided the development of the OSS project: why they were made, how they were implemented, and with what result. These decisions are of particular interest and significance to CSCL research, because they allow us to trace emergent norms and elusive micro practices in authentic class activities unfolding within a unique social space afforded by the OSS project.

The following taxonomy will guide my analysis:

  1. The sociable CSCL environment as the platform
  2. The liminal space as the conceptual space for creative expression
  3. Interactivity as strategy to enhance learner engagement
  4. Learner engagement is evinced by interaction/interactivity

Student Engagement

Student engagement is increasingly becoming a cornerstone in the coercive lexicon of neo-liberal reform in higher education. Referring to the “time, energy, and resources students devote to activities designed to enhance learning” (Krause, 2005c, p. 3), student engagement describes, inter alia, a compendium of student attitudes, behaviours and social interactions undergirding undergraduate learning. Major universities worldwide are keenly aware of the importance of student engagement, and its ramifications on student satisfaction and student experience (Cluett & Skene, 2011, p. 248) in the marketplace of higher education. Used as a benchmark by international league tables such as the Centre for Higher Education University Ranking (DAAD, 2015a, 2015b), ameliorating student satisfaction, inter alia, is a key priority in enhancing student experience in an increasingly competitive higher education market (Marginson, 2007). High student satisfaction indicators can therefore give universities continuously in pursuit of improving their performance in the league tables, a marketing edge in the highly competitive global arena where major universities vie for top talent. Driving the accountability regime, are quality assurance mandates, compelling universities to constantly monitor, scrutinize, and evaluate learner engagement often perceived by their “customers” to be a reliable measure of undergraduate learning experience. Student engagement and its concomitant impact on student satisfaction, are aspects of the undergraduate experience that include, inter alia, the quality of teaching, and the information and communication technologies (ICT) supporting enacted curricula — commonly deemed the core business of successful universities (Krause, 2005a, 2005b).

The Need for Sociable CSCL Environments in the Media Arts

 “People on the net are not only solitary information processors but also social beings. They are not only looking for information; they are also looking for affiliation, support and affirmation. Thinking of people on the net as social actors evokes a metaphor of a gathering. Behaviours appropriate at the gathering include chatting, discussing, arguing, and confiding. People go to a gathering to find others with common interests and talk with or listen to them. When they find a gathering like, they return to it again and again.”

(Sproull & Faraj, 1997, p. 38)

Media art is an art form that utilizes new communication technologies, computing, and electronic or digital equipment comprising computers, fax machines, and satellites, to exploit new technologies and processes in creative ways to create works of art, that encompass wired art, copy art, computer graphics, holography, video, experimental cinema, multimedia and interactive installations, avant-garde radio and television, as well as, musical compositions, concerts, and recordings (Poissant, 2000, p. 138).

Media art is differentiated from the deterministic artistic canons of the previous era, by interactivity and creative participation. The nexus between media arts learning and CSCL thus involves the use of communication technologies and computers to facilitate the social interaction, and hence social space, vitally important in media art and CSCL. It is therefore surprising that the media arts have been largely ignored within the burgeoning field of CSCL, for the highly interactive and creative practice of the media arts presents untapped opportunities for CSCL pedagogies. CSCL pedagogies within distributed virtual online environments largely neglect the social and socio-emotional complexities that undergird the group dynamics of working and learning in a CSCL group (Kirschner, 2015, p. 59), as well as, the intensely visceral and peer-to-peer nature of networked media art.


                                                   R E F E R E N C E S

 Cluett, L., & Skene, J. (2011). Using web 2.0 tools to enhance the student experience in non-teaching areas of the university. In M. J. W. Lee & C. McLoughlin (Eds.), Web 2.0-based E-learning : applying social informatics for tertiary teaching (pp. 247-266). Hershey Pa.: Information Science Reference.

DAAD. (2015a). CHE university ranking 2015/16 catalogue of criteria.   Retrieved from https://www.daad.de/deutschland/studienangebote/ranking/en/?a=info&t=catalogue-of-criteria

DAAD. (2015b). CHE university ranking 2015/16 FAQ.   Retrieved from https://www.daad.de/deutschland/studienangebote/ranking/en/?a=info&t=faq

Kirschner, P. A. (2015). Awareness of cognitive and social behaviour in a CSCL environment. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 31(1), 59-77.

Krause, K. (2005a). The changing face of the first year: Challenges for policy and practice in research-led universities. Paper presented at the University of Queensland first year experience workshop 2005, Townsville, Cairns, Queensland,.

Krause, K. (2005b). The changing student experience: Who’s driving it and where is it going? . Paper presented at the Student Experience Conference: Good Practice in Practice, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, NSW.

Krause, K. (2005c). Understanding and promoting student engagement in university learning communities. Paper presented at the James Cook University symposium 2005, sharing scholarship in learning and teaching: Engaging students, Townsville, Cairns, Queensland,.

Marginson, S. (2007). Rankings: Marketing mana or menace? Paper presented at the ‘The big oicture’ 16th annual New Zealand international education conference, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Poissant, L. (2000). New media dictionary. Leonardo, 33(2), 137-140. doi:10.1162/002409401750287047

Sproull, L., & Faraj, S. (1997). Atheism, sex and databases: The net as a social technology. In S. Kiesler (Ed.), Culture of the internet (pp. 35-52). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Stahl, G., Koschmann, T., & Suthers, D. (2015). Computer-supported collaborative learning. In K. R. Sawyer (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (2nd ed., pp. 479-500). New York: Cambridge University Press.