Online collaboration in a large university class supports quality teaching

  • Nan YangEmail author
  • Patrizia Ghislandi
  • Sara Dellantonio
Research Article


Quality teaching in large classes is generally challenging to achieve. In large classes, there are fewer possibilities for students to interact with the teacher and with each other; the motivation to study decreases as does the possibility for receiving feedback during the learning process. This can result, among other things, in reduced understanding of the learning material and therefore in lower academic performance. The aim of this study is to investigate whether computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) can have a positive impact on aspects of quality teaching such as interaction, motivation and understanding. Two online collaborative activities were designed and implemented in a regularly scheduled course with approximately 200 undergraduate students. This study adopted a mixed method of both qualitative and quantitative analysis: data were collected from surveys, in-depth interviews, forum logs, and exam scores. The results show that CSCL facilitates motivation, interaction and achievement of deep understanding. More particularly, one CSCL activity was found to be a significant contributor to students’ academic performance and this confirmed that traditional lecturing blended with CSCL improves the quality of the teaching compared to traditional lecturing only, at least as far as understanding is concerned. Moreover, the study indicates that different types of collaborative activities have different effects on learning and that the design of collaborative activities is therefore critical to outcomes. In this respect, it also reveals that social loafing, which is usually considered to have only negative effects on collaboration, can instead have a positive impact on learning if the task is appropriately designed.


Computer-supported collaborative learning Mixed method Learning design Large class pedagogy 



We would like to thank the Department of Psychology and Cognitive Sciences at the University of Trento for offering Nan Yang a Full Scholarship as this research was done during her doctoral study. We also would like to thank the Dean of the Department, Professor Remo Job, for giving us permission to access to the students’ university entrance data and Marta Cazzanelli for her continual help in providing data about students’ exam scores in the Philosophy of Science Course. Besides, we would like to thank Professor Lombardi and Professor Micciolo for their suggestions on the regression analysis. Last but not least, we would like to thank Dr. Magda Altman for proofreading.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

We received ethical approval from the Ethics Committee of our university, and we also followed the BERA 2011 Ethical Guidelines to conduct this study. Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants in this study.

Supplementary material

11423_2017_9564_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (148 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 148 kb)
11423_2017_9564_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (53 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PDF 53 kb)
11423_2017_9564_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (90 kb)
Supplementary material 3 (PDF 89 kb)


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Copyright information

© Association for Educational Communications and Technology 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Higher EducationBeijing Academy of Educational SciencesBeijingChina
  2. 2.Department of Psychology and Cognitive SciencesUniversity of TrentoRoveretoItaly

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