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Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL)


Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) is a branch of the learning sciences, its main question being in how people can learn together with the help of computers (Stahl et al., 2006).

Stahl et al. mention that “CSCL is often conflated with e-learning, the organization of instruction across computer networks”. They claim that e-learning is quite often motivated by a belief that classroom content can be simply digitized and made accessible to large numbers of students via computer. 
Four problems are pointed out in connection with this issue (Stahl et al., 2006):
  1. It is not true that posting of content (slides, texts or videos) is the same as instruction. Such content may provide important resources for students, but in order to be effective these sources should appear within a larger motivational and interactive context.
  2. Online teaching requires at least as much effort by teachers as classroom teaching does. It is not enough to prepare materials and make them available for students via computer; the teacher must motivate and guide each student. Therefore, online teaching usually significantly increases the teacher effort per student.
  3. CSCL stresses collaboration among the students. The students are not just reacting in isolation to posted materials. The learning happens through interactions: students learn by “expressing their questions, pursuing lines of inquiry together, teaching each other and seeing how others are learning”. Stimulating and sustaining productive student interaction is a challenge. It requires “skillful planning, coordination and implementation of curriculum, pedagogy and technology”.
  4. CSCL does not exclude face-to-face collaboration. Computer does not always take the form of an online communication medium. A group of students can use a computer to browse the Internet and to discuss and present the information they found collaboratively. Computer support can also take the form of face-to-face interaction.
The goal for design in CSCL is to create activities and environments that improve opportunities for group meaning making (Stahl et al., 2006). A variety of tools have been developed to foster students’ collaborative learning. Some computer applications were originally planned to be used as tools for collaboration, but there are many programs which have been considered to be useful for social interaction although they were originally created for solo learners. There is no universal way to classify CSCL tools. 
Crook analyzed how computers can facilitate collaborative learning in schools and made a distinction between interacting around and through computers (in Lehtinen et al.). 
The first perspective emphasizes “the use of computers as tools to facilitate face-to-face communication between student pairs or in a small group” (Lehtinen et al.). A number of empirical results demonstrate that group work (at least work in pairs) at the computer may enhance the collaborative learning situation. The issue to be addressed here is the way and extent to which learner-computer interaction and learner-learner interaction influence and enhance each other. For example, interfaces which distribute roles between learner partners help to facilitate social interaction (O'Malley; Blaye et al. as cited in Dillenbourg et al., 1996). On the other hand, immediate feedback provided by some interfaces is considered to prevent discussions between learner partners because in this case they can rely on the computer to test their correctness instead of giving arguments in order to convince each other (Fraisse as cited in Dillenbourg et al., 1996).
The second perspective, interacting through computers, refers to the use of networks. Local area networks (LAN) and wide area networks (WAN) and the global version of the latter (Internet) provide a variety of tools for collaboration (Lehtinen et al.).
I. Local workstation applications without network (interacting around computer)
  • Conventional single-user programs reapplied in a collaborative context
  • Applications with special interface for facilitating collaboration
II. Network-based tools for collaborative learning (interacting through computer)
  • Local Area Network-based client-server systems
  • E-mail as a tool for collaborative learning
  • Collaborative learning in the Internet and World Wide Web 
  • Combined multi-tool systems

Computer Supported Collaborative Learning can take place in the following ways:

  • Computer as resource: the computer is used as a source of information and as a tool for presenting a project. For example, students can use the Web to do research, a word processor to write a document, a presentation tool to develop a final project. Specialized software such as CAD tools or mathematical modeling tools are also examples.
  • Computer as focus : the computer is used to build and test systems in order to learn computer science concepts. For example, students implement alternative solutions to problems (such as sorting) and compare results between teams. Student develop large software systems by distributing the work among team members.
  • Computer as tutor unlike using the computer as resource, students are explicitly instructed in particular skills by the computer. For example, students might participate in an on-line tutorial in order to master low level technical skills required for a project (Wolz).

Computer-supported collaborative learning using shared document:



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