The current study investigates and compares the effects of high-structure cooperative and low-structure collaborative design on online debate, in terms of decision making, critical thinking, and interaction patterns.
The terms “cooperative” and “collaborative” have been interchangeably used, collaborative mostly in relation to online learning environments; however, there are apparent differences between cooperative and collaborative learning in terms of prestructure, task structure, and content structure (Strijbos & Martens, 2001; Panitz, 1996). While cooperative learning is highly pre-structured, relevant to more well-structured tasks for limited solutions, and requires the acquisition of a well-defined domain of knowledge and skills, collaborative learning is less structured, relates to ill-structured tasks for open and flexible solutions, and requires the acquisition of an ill-defined domain of knowledge and skills (Panitz, 1996). Group dynamics exists on a continuum; extreme cooperation maximizes pre-structure, task structure, and content structure, but extreme collaboration minimizes these structures. Between the two extremes, there are varying degrees of pre-structure, task structure, and content structure. This study designed two extreme instances, high-structure cooperative (HSCP) and low structure collaborative (LSCL), in order to examine the different effects of these structures on online debate processes and outcomes. In order to differentiate two levels of treatment, an extreme design for high-structure cooperative (HSCP) included a pre assigned position as prestructure, argumentation scaffolding as task structure, and evaluation scaffolding as content structure. The extreme design for low-structure collaborative (LSCL) did not use these features.
In a sequence of activities that included pre-test, three weeks of online debate, and post-test, study subjects evaluated three pairs of WebQuests, web-based inquiry-oriented learning activities, in terms of their strengths and weaknesses. The results of this study demonstrate that there was no statistical difference in decision changes between the HSCP and LSCL groups. However, the improvement of critical thinking was higher in the HSCP than in the LSCL group. More critical and dynamic interaction patterns were observed in the HSCP than in the LSCL group. This study concludes that cooperative design can be differentially implemented from collaborative design. Also, the substructure of cooperative strategy, pre-structure, task structure, and content structure can be properly implemented for the specifically intended purposes.