Yes We Can
The world has changed and the opportunities for CSCL have been transformed along with it. I am writing this in early November, immediately after the election of Barack Obama in the US and during a period of unprecedented economic volatility around the globe.
The recent events dramatically accentuate the rapid globalization of all aspects of life. In the US, we change from a parochial culture oriented toward America’s rural past to a government led by someone with personal roots in Africa and Asia and with a respect for ideas and collaboration. The economic crisis forces nations around the world to work together in order to pursue their own self-interest in a complexly intertwined and interdependent globe.
The U.S. election—viewed by many as an election of international import—illustrates the importance of an educated population for democracy. Obama’s support came from the most educated regions of the country. His campaign emphasized argumentation and reason over emotion and faith. To follow the election process, one had to comprehend polling, statistics, sampling, and economics. It also helped to be conversant with e-mail, blogging and new computer interface displays. Just as John Dewey emphasized almost a century ago and as people in developing nations have seen repeatedly, education and democracy need to go forward together.
Despite the crushing pressure to address the economy, Obama still maintains his commitment to improving education in America. He wants to support schools, teachers, and instructional technology in order to raise student test scores. This is where CSCL can provide new vision, tools, and approaches. Research in the learning sciences confirms the importance of schools, teachers, technology, and test scores, but demonstrates the need to go beyond these basic infrastructural elements. Students need to be engaged in constructing knowledge—for themselves and with their peers. They need to become involved in the cultures of knowledge building in various subject domains and to become conversant in the related media for expressing their own understandings.
CSCL offers innovative and powerful ways to take advantage of computer technology to provide new forms of learning. Too often, technology is viewed as a way of automating education and reducing costs, without changing the traditional view of education as the transfer of facts from an authoritative source to a relatively passive student’s memory. CSCL proposes new media to support new experiences for students, in which they can interact with other students in structured environments with well-conceived tasks to learn through exploration and discussion.
Although most CSCL systems are still experimental prototypes, once fully developed with all the supports needed for deployment, they could provide effective learning environments to broad audiences of students. In doing so, they would even make it possible for students to collaborate across national borders, preparing them for an ever more global world.
Mature CSCL environments could be disseminated throughout the world, providing access for students inside and outside of schools to rich digital resources in productive interactional settings. The catch is that students, teachers, parents, schools, and politicians all have to transform how they think about education so that they can appreciate and support the profound kinds of learning that can take place in CSCL experiences.
Some countries have begun to commit to constructivist and collaborative learning as appropriate to our global knowledge-building economy. It is up to CSCL researchers to continue to provide persuasive evidence for transforming our educational institutions in this direction. The attempt to promote progressive education has been frustratingly slow since Dewey first called for it. We still need curriculum, technologies, theories, models, documented successes and reproducible interventions.
The US has fallen behind recently, with its policy of “no child left untested.” At this juncture of history, it seems both hopeful and urgent to move in more collaborative directions. Can CSCL researchers make a difference and help education catch up to its historical mission internationally? Yes we can!