Education and Information Technologies

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 589–617 | Cite as

Distributed collaborative homework activities in a problem-based usability engineering course

  • John M. Carroll
  • Hao Jiang
  • Marcela Borge


Teams of students in an upper-division undergraduate Usability Engineering course used a collaborative environment to carry out a series of three distributed collaborative homework assignments. Assignments were case-based analyses structured using a jigsaw design; students were provided a collaborative software environment and introduced to a simple model of collaboration. We found that students were able to use the collaboration model, though the quality of their collaboration was poor both before and after training. We found that students were able to carry out the distributed collaborative homework activities using our collaborative software environment, though they often used, and sometimes relied on face-to-face interactions. The use of chat to maintain team awareness, and coordinate the development of shared documents, was particularly notable as a practice of our most successful teams. Students reported a great variety of benefits and challenges in carrying out the distributed collaborative homework activities. We speculate on future directions for teaching collaboration skills, and for better supporting team awareness and workflows in distributed collaborative homework activities.


Problem-based learning Collaborative learning Distributed collaborative homework Awareness 



We are grateful to Mary Beth Rosson, who led the original development of the project-based usability engineering course and the textbook for that course (Rosson and Carroll 2002), and who provided advice throughout this project. We also thank Craig Ganoe and Philip Isenhour, the primary developers of BRIDGE. We also thank our usability engineering students at Penn State who allowed us to study their learning activities. This work was supported the US National Science Foundation (0736440).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center for Human-Computer Interaction and College of Information Sciences and TechnologyThe Pennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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