Dobos, J. A. (1996). Collaborative learning: Effects of student expectations and communication apprehension on student motivation. Communication Education, 45, 118-134. 



This article is about Dobos’ study on examining, “the differential patterns of student motivation associated with collaborative learning, a specific learning context in which students work together to apply and synthesize course concepts” (p. 130/296). Communication expectations and apprehension were the two main factors that were studied.  The purpose of the study is to find out if students’ communication predispositions, “promote of detract from individual students’ motivation relative to their groups” (p. 118/284). 


Points of Discussion:

1)      Introduction

a.       Collaborative learning is defined as, “classroom based activities in which students work together in small groups to apply and synthesize course concepts” (p. 118/284).  It focuses on, “self-directed peer interaction centered on a common task goal” (p. 118/284). 

b.      Dobos hypothesized, “students’ pre-session communication expectations and communication apprehension relative to the other group members can influence the extent to which the task experience is self-rewarding or intrinsically motivating for the individual student” (p. 119/285).

2)      Conceptual Framework

a.       Emergent motivation is defined as, “the set of intrinsic rewards individuals derive from a task experience” (p. 119/285). Csikszentmihalyi refers to this term to “emphasize that these rewards not only emanate from the task experience but constitute the individual’s cognitive and affective experience with the task” (p. 119/285). 

b.      Optimal challenge is defined as, “the individual’s perception that an activity invites them to perform to their full capacity” (p. 120/286).  Optimal challenge is divided into two main factors “expectations about goal-directed accomplishment and the perceived ability to perform the activity” (p. 120/286). 

c.       Csikszentmihalyi’s study found that the following factors define optimal challenge and emergent motivation: “for a task to be optimally challenging, individual’s self-recognized capabilities are equal to the expected task challenge, the individual is more likely to have a positive self-rewarding experience with the task activity.  The positive emergent motivation profile includes a sense of satisfaction with the task experience, the perception that expectations were fulfilled, and an awareness of being active but relaxed during the task activity.  If the anticipated task challenges exceed the individual’s self-appraised capabilities, a non-rewarding pattern of emergent motivation is likely to occur.  The individual’s thoughts and feelings surrounding the task experience will then be marked by more dissatisfaction, the perception that expectations were not fulfilled, and the sense of being more passive and anxious during the task activity” (p. 119/285). 

d.      Question for researching: “ Will the two discrepant conditions- above-average expectancies/channel apprehension and below-average preinteraction expectancies/apprehension- produce anxious and boredom patterns, or reversal patterns of emergent motivations for the three types of collaborative learning sessions?” (p. 123/289). 

3)      Method

a.       96 upper-division undergraduates “enrolled in three sections of a communication theory course” (p. 123/289). 

b.      All the students worked on three collaborative tasks with the same groups of people.  They used three different types of communication for each session: “face-to-face group discussion, writing and interactive computer mediated communication” (p. 123/289).

c.       The students were tested in three areas including State Anxiety, Communicative Activity, and Satisfaction.  They were then “coded into four optimal challenge categories for each of the three collaborative learning modalities” (p. 127/293).  The four challenge categories are “(a) above average expectancies and below-average apprehension, (b) above-average expectancies and apprehension, (c) below-average expectancies and apprehension and (d) below-average expectancies and above-average apprehension” (p. 127/293).

4)      Results

a.       The study concluded a, “student with a high score on the discriminant function would be less anxious, more satisfied and active, and report greater expectancy fulfillment from the group discussion session in contrast to the electronic messaging session” (p. 128/294). 

b.      On the other hand, “a student with a low score on the discriminant function would be more anxious and less active and derive lower satisfaction and expectancy fulfillment from the group discussion session compared to the electronic messaging session” (p. 128/294). 

c.       Answer to the research question: Student with “mismatched preinteraction expectancy and apprehension levels (high/high and low/low optimal challenge categories) differed for the three collaborative learning modalities” (p. 129/295).  

5)      Discussion Questions

a.       Does anyone know how to read the chart on page two (p. 130/296 in your book)?

b.      This study concluded that “the conceptualization of emergent motivation as a multiple set of intrinsic rewards successfully accounts for the ways in which students differ in their perceptions of expected task challenge and communication apprehension concerned with various collaborative learning modalities” (p. 131/297).  In other words, the students’ pre-expectations of group tasks and the amount of communication apprehension they have depend on whether or not they see a task experience as self-rewarding or intrinsically motivating. Do you personally fit this result?  If so, how?  If not, how do you differ?  Do you believe that the majority of students would fit this result? 

c.       This study showed contradictory results across the three learning modalities; face-to-face, writing and electronic messaging.  I think that the three modalities should be divided into three different studies.  Do you agree?  In the writing and electronic messaging sessions “above-average expectations can be fulfilled but still the student can be more passive, anxious and dissatisfied with the session when the student has above-average apprehension and preinteraction expectations” (p. 131/297). I believe this is because face-to-face interaction is much more intimidating and high expectations are harder to fill.  What do you think?

d.      Dobos suggests that teachers should give their students the choice to choose which type of group modality to participate in that fits their “communication expectations and apprehension levels” (p. 132/298).  Which type of group learning modality do you prefer?  How would a teacher incorporate all these different learning modalities into one task? 

e.       Dobos also suggests that wrap-up sessions need to have time devoted to going over the group process, “specifically the elements which contributed to a valuable or disappointing interaction” (p. 132/298).  How realistic is it that teachers would do this?  I never had a group process debriefed in a wrap-up session until graduate school.  Have any of you had the group process explained?  When?  What was said?