Third International Conference on the Teaching of Psychology
Joerg Zumbach,
Department of Science Education and Teacher Training,
University of Salzburg,

Presentation (pdf)


Current practice in teaching of psychology involves several methods and approaches as well as media in order to satisfy students’ and staff’s needs. Especially online courses offer several possibilities of overcoming traditional classroom borders. Nevertheless, the use computer-mediated communication (CMC) is sometimes rather problematic than beneficial for supporting communication among students and lecturers. Problems can derive from insufficient social and cognitive grounding, technical obstacles, and insufficient group facilitation.

Based on McGrath’s Time, Interaction and Performance Theory (TIP-theory), an integrative model for fostering and supporting task-oriented groups within online-learning environments that exceed traditional classroom borders is suggested here. TIP-theory concludes that successful groups fulfil three functions simultaneously: Groups should always work goal-oriented and, thus, fulfil a production function. In order to establish stable groups, the climate within a team has to be focused by groups’ well-being functions. Members of a learning group have also the function to support members when necessary on social, motivational, cognitive, and emotional levels.

Within the area of Instructional Psychology, we developed several scenarios and tasks for case-based learning and Learning-by-Design in order to foster learners’ production function (according to the TIP-theory) within online learning groups. Thus, learning demands from students not only to read and discuss course relevant literature but rather to apply this knowledge within authentic problem-solving scenarios. Mastery learning is hereby intended by requiring case solutions or case designs and their underlying rationale from students. In addition, several management and design-based scaffolding approaches have been developed in order to support groups’ well-being and member support. Due to the shortcomings of text-based CMC, this is also helpful in scaffolding students’ first steps in problem-solving online communication. Furthermore, effective group facilitation can help to reduce drop-out rates in online courses and to meet students’ technical as well as instructional needs.

Several empirical studies support the benefits of this integrative concept in order to overcome obstacles of web-based learning and to design meaningful online or blended learning courses. A major rationale was to scaffold group learning in order to master obstacles of collaboration. The work here was conducted to foster cognitive, motivational, social, and emotional processes. Thus, the role of external representations as a result of monitoring a group’s natural interaction is stressed. These interactions can be recorded and used to provide immediate feedback to a group by means of graphical representation. This research also indicates that the analysis of interactions, collaboration, and other processes summarized under the label “social grounding” appears to be essential for learning but also for meta-learning. If learners are to be empowered to reflect upon their learning behaviour (or production-function), their member-support, and their group well-being and to become strategic collaborative learners, they need to be provided with concepts and tools for analyzing their collaborative learning process. The approach presented here contributes to such advances and can be extended to include further parameters that enhance online learning groups on their way to stable learning communities.

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