Computer Supported Collaborative Learning Dr. Jože Rugelj, Assoc.Prof. University of Ljubljana Faculty of Education The theoretical foundation for collaborative learning is social constructivism. One foundational premise in SC is that children actively construct their knowledge rather than simply absorbing ideas spoken at them by teachers. They assimilate new information to simple, pre- existing notions and modify their understanding in the light of new data. Instruction in this context is a process of supporting that construction rather than communicating knowledge. Most SC models stress the need for collaboration among learners. One Vygotskian notion, that has significant implications for peer collaboration, is that of the 'Zone of Proximal Development.' ZPD is defined as "the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers" (Vygotsky, 1978),- Through a process of 'scaffolding' a learner can be extended beyond the limitations of physical maturation to the extent that the "the development process lags behind the learning process". The broadest definition of 'collaborative learning' is that it is a situation in which two or more people learn or attempt to learn something together. two or more may be interpreted as a pair, a small group, a class, a community, a society and all intermediate levels. learn something may be interpreted as "follow a course", "study course material", "perform learning activities such as problem solving", "learn from lifelong work practice", .... together may be interpreted as different forms of interaction: face-to-face or computer-mediated, synchronous or not, frequent in time or not, Intuitively, a situation is termed 'collaborative' if peers are more or less at the same level, can perform the same actions, have a common goal and work together. The second criterion is that one generally expects collaborating partners to have common goals. The third criterion concerns the degree of division of labour among group members. Collaboration and cooperation are used distinctively according the degree of division of labour. In cooperation, partners split the work, solve sub-tasks individually and then assemble the partial results into the final output. In collaboration, partners do the work 'together'. Shared knowledge is fundamentally constructed through collaboration between persons. Different forms of interaction – that can be extended in time and space by various media and ICT tools – are the means by which people both collaboratively construct beliefs and meanings, and state differences between them. Psychological, social and cultural processes within groups of collaborating people are the key factors in determining whether ICT tools will be accepted and successful. Collaboration that is mediated by ICT may proceed synchronously or asynchronously. Another distinction concerns implicit versus explicit communication. The former refers to collaboration through use of shared information resources, such as documents, images and spreadsheets, whilst the latter is explicit communication among collaborators using audio and/or video channels, or just simple text messages. Appropriate communication media need to be selected for collaborative knowledge construction . Factors that affect the selection: characteristics of a task; availability of telematics tools to all members of the group; intended period of interaction; inertia involved in switching to more appropriate media; the ability to extend interaction in time and space. Factors which contribute to richness are: interactivity (the speed of reaction) multiple cues (verbal, intonation, proxemic, and kinetic) language-variety (numbers, natural language, symbols, images) socio-emotional cues (social presence, feelings) ICT software tools for explicit communication: Conferencing system: questions for tutor, other participants, or experts, answers to questions, open discussions (moderated), informal chat. Email Internet Relay Chat, MUD(Multi-User Dimensions) Low-cost desktop A/V conferencing tools: CU- SeeMe or NetMeeting conferencing tool, ISDN conferencing. ICT software tools for implicit communication: Shared workspace (BSCW) Knowledge tree Shared whiteboard Shared use of software tools (word processor, spredsheets, graphical editor) Learning management system Learning content management system Developments in ICT are starting to make it possible to use the tools for assisting the process of learning beyond the boundaries of the classroom. In addition, their use will start to prepare learners for participation in a networked, information society where knowledge is the most critical resource for personal, social and economical development. School children and students increasingly need to acquire the individual and the group learning skills for use in learning societies and learning organisations. They need to acquire the skills that enable them to cope with an abundance of information in order to build knowledge and thus learn from the knowledge acquired. Computer-supported collaborative learning requires teachers and students to adopt an educational philosophy that focuses on “knowledge building” rather than “knowledge reproduction” as the main learning activity. This requires both teachers and students to believe in and trust a learning style that involves active, self-regulated, constructive and contextualised learning by groups of students more or less independently. However, not every student or teacher is used to this way of learning and for many it was not easy to learn together with other students. In addition, it is not easy to integrate this new educational philosophy with existing philosophies in schools. Although other research has shown that co-operative learning is effective, if students have common goals and interests combined with individual accountability, in reality, it hardly occurs within existing school practice. ICT support does add value by: The easier organisation in the classroom of collaborative learning. Better visibility of collaboration processes involving of all students. Making communication patterns visible and structuring types of communication. Making types of thinking visible and organising enquiry- based learning. Learning to build knowledge and meaning collectively. Building connections with practice; and opening new forms of collaboration with other classrooms, schools, nations, and other partners like museums and universities. Teachers and students do like to work through computer supported collaborative learning, but it is not easy to integrate new didactical practices into existing curricula. International exchanges seem to have a positive effect on the motivation of both students and teachers. Teachers do not have the time for support or preparation of assignments and questions for use within a computer supported collaborative learning. There are not enough didactical materials, or examples of good practice to help them fulfil their new roles. Various positive effects can be found in computer supported collaborative learning environments : There is relatively consistent evidence of students showing more interest in collaborative learning. The practises of learning and instruction change considerably. Students work in a more self-regulating way. The amount and quality of social interaction between teachers and students increase. Students develop skills for using information technology and basic knowledge acquisition. They learn to access extended sources of information and motivation increase. There are significant advantages in using CSCL in mathematics and languages, and in process-oriented measures like the quality of question raised and depth of explanation. The suitability of the software is critical to CSCL. There is no evidence that multimedia elements have pedagogical value without carefully planned instructional strategies and adequately educated teachers. Unlike the scientific communities, practising teachers do not consider highly the role of CSCL within future learning environments. This is partly due to its novelty, but also highlights that the theoretical and practical principles of computer-supported collaborative learning are too immature to be adopted as practical educational reforms. Nevertheless, a form of CSCL would be the most desired way to implement desired changes in educational practises like changing the educational philosophy of teachers and students. Key Recommendations There is a need for theoretically well-grounded development of CSCL practises and tools that are embedded in a practical educational context. Effective infrastructures need to be established to ensure computer and computer networks are optimally utilised. Specialist IT technicians should be responsible for maintenance to enable teachers to concentrate on teaching. Any technology needs to be adaptable to the instructional needs of teachers and to the daily realities of classroom life. Support is also needed for the creation of electronic communities for teachers, which can aid the development of new learning methods and help establish learning communities. To effectively implement computer-supported collaborative learning in schools, financial support is needed for: Adequate teacher training. Extra hours for teachers to design assignments and questions. Computers and software. Pedagogical support. School libraries needs to become multimedia centres, central to schools in order to promote individual learning and small group work with librarians trained to be guides and tutors in the search for information Teachers also need training to develop technical expertise and know-how and to learn to be more effective guides and tutors. Opening schools to activities beyond school time could facilitate the participation of Institutions in the educational community. Educational research and the policy of national school institutions must be integrated as current research is artificially constructed and results in outcomes that scarcely affect changes.
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