Collaborative Learning

I am currently beginning my research for my dissertation and, in part thanks to my experience with the iPad in school, I have decided to focus on Computer Supported Collaborative Learning. Whilst the specifics of my research are yet to be worked out preliminary reading around the subject has proven very interesting and has already got me asking questions about my own teaching.

One of the first really interesting aspects of this is the historical one. Researchers were interested in this topic from the very early days, and many predicted the problems, and the freedoms we are experiencing now. This paper by Roschelle and Pea described how Wireless Internet Learning Devices (WILDs they termed them – catchy!) can be used to improve/augment the classroom for collaborative learning.

We have suggested five WILD application affordances already illustrated by early

handheld CSCL applications: (1) augmenting physical space; (2) leveraging topological

space, of two distinct kinds; (3) aggregating coherently across all students' individual

contributions; (4) conducting classroom performances; and (5) “act becomes artifact

Their work also talks about how teachers talked very favourably about such devices (which back then were items such as palm pilots) but were worried about children going off task, or not paying attention. Sounds familiar?!

Scott et al – in their 2003 paper demonstrate favourable activity such as engagment and participation chiefly when children can interact at the same time – and from their 2003 study they make the following useful recommendations:

  1. Support should be provided for concurrent interaction. The results of this work show that this can help to engage children in a collaborative activity and enable them to participate equally.
  2. Multiple interaction styles should be supported in both hardware and software. This will allow children to explore a variety of collaborative strategies and to choose the most suitable one(s) for the activity and their personalities.
  3. Consider designing collaborative applications for use on a shared display, especially those where the children would benefit from a shared understanding of the workspace (e.g. a spatial learning activity).
  4. The goal of the activity should be considered before choosing a collaborative setting. No collaborative setting is best suited for all situations. As shown above, children who found the collaborative math activity the easiest in the shared-display setting, did not necessarily find it the most enjoyable. Many enjoyed the challenge of communicating in the separated-displays setting. Conversely, if a teacher is trying to coach a child through an activity, sharing a display may help facilitate richer communication to allow them to concentrate on the activity, rather than on trying to understand each other.

These recommendations are very relevant now – designing the technology for the learning rather than the other way round is incredibly important. The talk of a shared display, whether it be interactive whiteboard or iPad screen is also interesting – do we get more talk / more collaboration when children are sharing screens and is it relevant to their learning?

Dillenbourg (1999) has written extensively on the subject and poses many questions that are relevant to teachers:

  • What evidence do we have that collaborative learning is an effective way of learning? How are we measuring this?
  • Do we measure the group as a learning community or the individuals learning? Why?
  • Are we interested in measuring activities such as engagement / participation / off task activity?
  • What will the role of the teacher become? In ten years can we say it has changed? (Probably not)


As an aside my next stop will be Gerry Stahl – and to refine my own research idea.

Thanks for reading!

References – apologies, not all of these are freely available.

Demb A, Erickson, D and Hawkins-Wilding, S (2004) The laptop alternative: Student reactions and strategic implications Computers & Education 43 (4) 383 – 401


Dillenbourg, P. (1999) What do you mean by Collaborative Learning? In P. Dillenbourg (ed) Collaborative Learning : Cognitive and Computational Approaches (PP 1 – 19) Oxford : Elsevier


Miyake, N Computer Supported Collaborative Learning in Andrews, R and Haythornthwaite, C (eds) The Sage Handbook of E-Learning (2007) Sage : London


Roschelle, J and Pea, R. (2002) A Walk on the WILD side: How Wireless handhelds may change computer-supported collaborative learning. International Journal of Cognition and Technology (2002) 1 (1) 145-168


Roschelle, J (2003) Unlocking the learning value of wireless mobile devices. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning 19 (3) 260 – 272


Scott, S D, Mandryk, RL and Inkpen, K M (2003) Understanding children's collaborative interactions in shared environments. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (2003) 19 220-228


Zurita, G and Nussbaum, M (2004) Computer supported collaborative learning using wirelessly interconnected handheld computers. Computers & Education (2004) 289-213



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