Maartje Hendrikx en Karel Kreijns
Case study

Frocole- the app for feedback and reflection in collaborative learning

Collaborative learning or collaborative learning aims not only to develop one's own knowledge and person, but also to help others move forward. Thanks to the open and online education incentive scheme, the Open University (OU) developed the Frocole app to support the feedback and reflection process of collaborative groups,

"It looks simple, but that is precisely its strength"

"Teachers who do collaborative learning often think it comes naturally. You put together a group and then they start working on the project. And then it succeeds. Either it succeeds or it doesn't. But the reason why such a group project fails - or does not produce the expected results - is usually not investigated. In our opinion, it is almost always to do with the cooperation. You have to pay attention to that as well. You also have to learn how to work together. And this feedback and reflection tool can be a perfect support for that.

Practical applications

Karel Kreijns, Professor of Educational Studies and chairman of the Department of Social Learning at the Open University of the Netherlands in Heerlen, the Netherlands, is speaking. Maartje Henderikx is part of the same department within the Faculty of Educational Sciences. She is an associate professor and researcher, looking, among other things, at how the results of research can be converted into practical applications. They both stood at the cradle of FROCOLE: Feedback and Reflection in Online Collaborative Learning.

Free riders

"You always have to deal with group dynamics in collaborative learning," says Maartje. "Some groups are more together than the individual, but it's also often just the other way around. I think most people can sense what I mean by free riders: group members who contribute nothing. Somehow, they always manage to play it so that they don't have to do anything and the other person has to do a lot. This can cause a lot of irritation and frustration. The app can help by making this behaviour visible and discussable at an early stage. The group can look for a joint solution, which in many cases creates more unity and better cooperation."

Promoting social interaction

Frocole app- radar diagram

FROCOLE is an app conceived and developed by Karel, Maartje and software engineer Wim van der Vegt with the help of SURF's Open and Online Education Incentive Scheme. The aim of the app is to promote social interaction and prevent or solve group dynamics problems, which ultimately increases study success.

In the app, as a student, you give yourself and your group mates feedback on a number of criteria, such as reliability, helpfulness, productivity or engagement, and are encouraged to reflect by a simple pedagogical agent - a virtual "helper". The feedback is displayed in radar charts, one at the individual level and one at the group level.

Any teacher can use the app

Frocole app

"We chose an app because it is platform-independent," says Karel. "This is ideal: any teacher can decide to use the app for their course, within any education system and any institution. The app can simply be downloaded from the App Store and Google Play. As a result, students can also use the app anywhere and at any time. This makes remote collaboration very easy, but you can also imagine being in the same room giving feedback to your fellow students or the group and working on it together immediately."

Want to use the Frocole app. Then first take a look at how you can do that in your own organisation. All materials for this are available open source.

Growing with feedback

By dragging a slider back and forth with your finger, you give the various criteria values between 0 and 100. "What comes out is actually a talking picture," says Maartje. "You can see at a glance where your feedback - both the feedback you give and the feedback you receive - matches or differs from the rest. You also see what the group's strengths are and what you could work on. A pedagogical agent reminds you of the feedback deadline and helps you reflect. It looks very simple, but that is precisely its strength."

Students are enthusiastic

"So far we have done a few pilots with the FROCOLE app," says Maartje. "Students are generally very enthusiastic. They see it as a very good tool to also assess collaboration and learn from it. They like the fact that it is an app on their phone, so they can use it anytime, anywhere. And they are very positive about the visual aspect. The app also turned out really nice."

Being open to other perspectives

"For me, it was the first time I was involved in developing an app," says Maartje. "It was an interesting process, but I must admit that sometimes I did think: 'what have we started?' Because you can put everything down on paper in detail, but the moment it is graphically designed and built by an external party, completely different forces come into play." Karel: "Then it suddenly turns out that the builder also has certain ideas about the functioning of such an app. That clashed at times. But you also have to be open to other points of view and that outside input did eventually make it a better product, which students can use very well."

"The success of usage hinges on how the teacher introduces the app"


"We have found that the success of usage hinges on the way the teacher introduces the app. It has to be very clear that the app really helps students with their studies and is not just another way to get their data. Privacy actually played an important role in the development. Teachers, for example, only see averages and not individual scores. If the lecturer manages to create enough support, can convey that it is a tool to improve the group's results, the app is generally well received by students and used intensively."

Bottom line

"In the pilots so far, the use of the app was voluntary," says Maartje. "I am a proponent of making it compulsory as a teacher, because now it remains possible as a student to evade giving feedback, and of course it is mainly the free riders we were talking about earlier who do not participate. That affects the final results. They all have to bare their bottoms to get on with it."

Increasing study success

"If Frocole is integrated into teaching from the very beginning and used more often and for longer, in the long run it can also be a source of insight for the teacher," Karel adds. "The latter can accurately follow the development of a course in which collaborative learning plays a role and see more and more clearly where adjustments can be made in group processes. And that was the intention of the app. That study success increases."

Further development of the app

pedagogical agent Frocole

Karel: "We are now working on a version 2.0, with expanded capabilities. With this, you can, for instance, also give feedback on the product the group has to deliver and look back in the feedback history. We are happy that the app is being further developed, as we are very satisfied with the results of pilots. Meanwhile, there is a lot of attention for the app from several other educational institutions, including from abroad. I hope and expect that there will also be a 3.0 version afterwards. Because I can still think of lots of features. More human factors, such as avatars or photos of members. A pedagogical agent, based on artificial intelligence. If I let my imagination run wild.... The sky is the limit!"

Incentive scheme open and online education

View more results from the open and online education incentive scheme. Or go straight to the online education projects or view the sharing and reusing learning resources projects.