CheerOn: Facilitating online social support for novice project-based learning teams

Emily Harburg*, Daniel Rees Lewis, Matthew Easterday, Elizabeth M. Gerber

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Novices learn innovation best through project-based learning (PBL), working in face-to-face teams to tackle real-world problems. Yet, real-world projects are complex, stressful, and especially challenging for novices. Online communities could provide social support to motivate novices, but it is unclear how to design online communities to support face-to-face PBL teams. Here we ask: How might we design an online system that enlists external supporters to provide online social support to motivate PBL students? Our need-finding study found that PBL students received infrequent social support, rarely engaged in help-seeking, and perceived little progress until the end of their projects. Based on these findings, we designed CheerOn, an online social support system that prompts novice student teams to externalize progress allowing external, online supporters to offer social support. We tested CheerOn with 3 PBL teams and 15 external supporters over a 6-week course.We found that external supporters provided instrumental, informational, and emotional support that strengthened students' bonds to the community, which increased help-seeking. Supporters also provided appraisal support, which increased students' perceived value of their work. Supporters were more likely to offer informational and instrumental support when they were promoted or saw a clear need for help; supporters who received gratitude from students were more likely to offer emotional support in return; and supporters who were closely connected to the community were more likely to offer appraisal and instrumental support. Theoretically, this research contributes to our understanding of how hybrid face-to-face and online communities can impact the behavior of PBL students, specifically towards the facilitation of help-seeking behavior, as well as increased understanding of how different types of social support (i.e., appraisal, emotional, informational, and instrumental) can impact the participation of PBL students and supporters. Practically, this research contributes to our understanding of how to design socio-technical systems that facilitate social support for offline novice PBL students working, expanding the instructional resources available for preparing novices in PBL environments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberA32
JournalACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • Social support
  • computer supported cooperative work
  • online communities
  • progress
  • project-based learning
  • self-efficacy
  • student motivation
  • teams

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Human-Computer Interaction


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