Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Guiding Group Cognition in CSCL

Guiding Group Cognition in CSCL
Gerry Stahl

Regardless of whether particular stakeholders are interested in individual learning outcomes or in the knowledge-building accomplishments of teams, the power of collaborative learning emanates from its potential to coalesce multiple people into the coherent cognitive effort of a group. The research goal of the field of CSCL is to understand how this synergy takes place and to design ways of supporting its fragile processes. The rigorous study of group cognition is elusive because successful collaborative learning is (a) currently rare and hard to identify, (b) complex in the structure of its constituent mechanisms and the factors influencing them, and (c) unique in each of its situated instances.

There are now a number of theoretical frameworks available, which are influential in the CSCL research community, each, perhaps, with its own model of the influences on collaborative learning that must be taken into account. The dialogical interaction through which individual participants form into a collective knowledge-building agency stands in the center of the various influencing factors.

The sequential nature of the interaction is what weaves contributions from the Bakhtinian voices of individuals into group processes of meaning making, as each responds to previous entries and elicits new ones. The meanings—shared by the group by virtue of their having been co-constructed in the collectively experienced sequential interaction—are embodied in team knowledge artifacts, whether linguistic phrases or physical objects. This collaborative knowledge building produces the team’s outcomes, which are driven by the team’s task.

A major thrust of the CSCL research agenda is to analyze the influences and constraints on the flow of knowledge building sketched in the preceding paragraph. Of course, a starting point is the determination of the individual voices of the participants: their background, perspectives, and abilities. What experiences do they bring to the interaction and what resources can they each contribute? These factors at the individual unit of analysis are preconditions of the collaboration; they are of interest to education and psychology in general, but not specifically CSCL’s concerns, which are more directed toward the group level of description.

By virtue of its name and its history, CSCL is especially oriented toward the computational technology and the digital media that support online group interaction. In addition, theories of situativity, activity, ethnomethodology, actor networks, and distributed cognition highlight the essential influences on collaboration of the ongoing interactional context, the teleological object of the activity, available conceptual tools, established social practices, immutable-mobile mediators, the evolving joint problem space, and the larger socio-cultural horizon.

Because CSCL is an empirical science, researchers must capture data that lends itself to the analysis of these various dimensions of group interaction. To plausibly demonstrate the nature of particular influences, they must somehow focus on the phenomena they wish to study and determine the role they are playing. The authors of the papers in the September issue of ijCSCL do so in very different ways, illustrating once more the vigorous diversity, which is a core strength of the CSCL research field. The first four studies investigate how various forms of scaffolding can guide the group interaction in a pedagogically desirable direction, while the final reflection shows that the interaction also depends upon—and helps to construct—internal preconditions of productive collaboration, such as mutual trust.

1 Comments:

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Saturday, July 03, 2010  

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