Cooperating Online Gives Students Better Grades

Closeup of business people standing with hands together

Do you work well alone? Do other people get in your way or distract you from your studies? Are you more productive without the interaction with your peers? If so, you may be in the minority. At least, that’s according to new research from the University of California at San Diego, published last week.

Computer scientist and co-author Manuel Cebrian analyzed 80,000 interactions among 290 students in a “collaborative learning environment for college courses.” As Science Daily reports:

The major finding was that a higher number of online interactions was usually an indicator of a higher score in the class. High achievers also were more likely to form strong connections with other students and to exchange information in more complex ways. High achievers tended to form cliques, shutting out low-performing students from their interactions. Students who found themselves shut out were not only more likely to have lower grades; they were also more likely to drop out of the class entirely.

“Elite groups of highly connected individuals formed in the first days of the course,” said Cebrian, who also is a Senior Researcher at National ICT Australia Ltd, Australia’s Information and Communications Technology Research Centre of Excellence.

“For the first time, we showed that there is a very strong correspondence between social interaction and exchange of information — a 72 percent correlation,” he said “but almost equally interesting is the fact that these high-performing students form ‘rich-clubs’, which shield themselves from low-performing students, despite the significant efforts by these lower-ranking students to join them. The weaker students try hard to engage with the elite group intensively, but can’t. This ends up having a marked correlation with their dropout rates.”

It’s amazing how high-achievers came together to form relatively exclusive study groups, compounding the weaknesses of the weak students while the others advance. Knowing this kind of behaviour can help us understand things such as the risk of student drop-out rates in classes and certain political behaviour.

Other research has dealt with this topic as well.

If, for example, you really like to work alone (or you really don’t like to work with others – which may be a reasonable stance under various circumstances), online education may still be a great benefit. Research from 2010 by Robert Vavala showed that undergraduate students learn well even without face-to-face interactions:

Researchers assembled the data from a survey of more than 250 students enrolled in three different entry-level science courses at a large Midwestern public university. [. . .] Though the results may suggest that face-to-face courses are no more effective for student learning than online courses, Vavala said they also show that online courses could be even more effective if they could foster a culture of class cohesion, spirit, trust and interaction among students.

Therefore, students should not despair – even lone studiers can do well. This is essentially consistent with a 2008 study that found that e-learning can be a good thing to help facilitate classroom learning. Indeed, online learning isn’t necessarily just a “lesser form” of learning than in-person learning.

As is the case with many things in psychology, it all depends on the person. Some people like the online interactivity with peers, while others view such interaction as a waste of time. I believe that everything depends on who you have to deal with, and I certainly have had my fair share of completely useless group members in group projects of the years.

In short, if it works for you, do it. The Internet is an educational medium that we can use in various ways. But remember that if you’re a student who alone, there are others out there who might be in the same situation. It may be in your best interest to try interacting with those people.

The only difference between a high and low achiever is the amount of effort you put into something.

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