Challenges in assessing the nature of effective collaboration in blended university courses




online learning technologies, social network analysis, collaboration, blended learning


The ability to collaborate effectively face-to-face and online represents a critical skill for university graduates. However, there are still challenges regarding how to accurately assess this skill through traditional student learning measures. To better understand the nature of effective collaboration of university students in blended courses, the current study drew on the student approaches to learning framework and social network analysis techniques. We examined how student approaches to inquiry, approaches to online learning technologies, perceptions of the blended learning environment, different learning outcomes and configurations of collaboration are related. The methodologies commonly used in student approaches to learning research identified deep and surface approaches to inquiry and technologies, positive and negative perceptions of the integration of the learning environment, and of online workload, which also showed logical alignment with relatively better and poorer academic achievement in the course. Based on approaches, perceptions, and learning outcomes, students were divided into groups orientated towards understanding versus reproducing learning. The social network analysis techniques revealed features of different configurations of collaborations by different groups of students and their choices as to whether and with whom to collaborate during the learning process. Nuanced differences were found amongst different configurations of collaborations.

Implications for practice or policy:

  • When assessing student experience of collaboration, social network analysis techniques may be able to describe nuanced differences amongst different collaborative configurations.
  • To encourage students’ collaboration, assessment tasks involving a large proportion of mandatory collaborative activities should be considered.
  • To help student improve experience of collaboration, teachers may consider pairing students with a reproducing learning orientation with those having a deep disciplinary understanding.


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Author Biography

Feifei Han, Griffith University

Feifei Han, PhD, is a research fellow at Griffith University. Her research interests focus on teaching, learning, educational technology in higher education. She has worked on a number of large scale research projects funded by Australian Research Council. As a mixed-methods researcher, she has high level research skills in both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. Some of her publications appear in top-quality journals, such as Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, Internet and Higher Education, Early Education and Development, Computers and Education, IEEE Transactions on Learning Technologies, Educational Technology and Society, Frontiers in Psychology, Studies in Higher Education, Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education.




How to Cite

Ellis, R. A., Bliuc, A.-M., & Han, F. (2021). Challenges in assessing the nature of effective collaboration in blended university courses. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 37(1), 1–14.