Resource Database: Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences

Title Collaborative Learning Using Computer-mediated Communications (CMC)
Originator Christine Steeples, Mark Bryson and Susan Armitage
Department Learning Technology Support, Information Systems Services, Lancaster University, LA1 4YW, UK
Tel. +44 (0)1524 594695
Fax +44 (0)1524 592576 / 844011

At Lancaster University, a learning technology strategy has been evolved which focuses on the use of ICT to support collaborative learning. The University has been using asynchronous computer-mediated communication to support collaboration in teaching, learning and research since 1988. This approach is based on the belief that much significant learning is essentially communal. Deep-level understanding arises from the conversations, arguments and debates that take place amongst learners, leading to social construction of knowledge and collaborative validation of ideas.

Computer-mediated group processes (using computer-mediated communications (CMC) technologies, or groupware) enable groups of people to explore different perspectives and solve complex problems in flexible ways. This flexibility can be in terms of time and place. As an example, one undergraduate programme will this year replace face-to-face group work with an on-line equivalent, since it was impossible to make the time and place dependent meetings work for all students. They will have a single face-to-face group meeting at the end of the course.

Two recent projects have been led by staff in Information Systems Services and the Centre for Studies in Advanced Learning Technologies (CSALT) in the Department of Educational Research. They have involved teaching staff from the departments of Geography and Economics. The projects have harnessed CMC technology (specifically Lotus Domino via the WWW) specifically for geography-related projects:

The Networking Academy

This involves an electronic debate about the tensions between environmental and developmental concerns in India. For further information see

The Internet as a Tool for Collaborative Learning

The main aim of this project was to establish an international student-based learning project around resources found on the Internet. Three volunteer teams of undergraduate geography students at Lancaster University (UK), at University College, Galway (Eire) and at Florida State University, Tallahassee (USA) investigated a common problem by identifying resources available on the Internet and collaborating on their appraisal of these resources. For more information about other areas in which this technology is being used at Lancaster, refer to the "Use of Lotus Notes at Lancaster - an overview" in the Paper section of the on-line library at


Collaborative learning
Computer mediated communication (CMC)

This is one of the case studies which appears in the GDN Guide "Teaching and Learning Geography with Information and Communication Technologies"

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Page created 2 October 1999
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