Computer Supported Collaborative Learning

Computer Supported Collaborative Learning


The emergence of new technologies in the 21st century enforce educational institutes to work out for new instructive and cognitive patterns of learning where computers can play vital roles. In order to cope with the modern world requirements “Computer supported Collaborative Learning” system came into existence that concentrates to refine, facilitate and incorporate the learning process with the support of the collaborative partners. Now the use of CSCL has become an imperative component of learning environment

Computer supported collaborative learning – CSCL is the most competent innovation of modern world that is aimed at improving the process of teaching and learning by helping it through the modern communication technology.  CSCL is an instructional way that encourages students to learn and scrutinize together and jointly solve their problems. This system is opposite to the traditional concept of learning where learners are supposed to be inactive and solitary receivers of knowledge. Whereas CLCS promises to assure that the students are learning in vigorous, stimulate and socially enriched framework.

CLCS is meant to provide authentic learning environment to individuals in order to bind them as a team that can join their intelligence to solve the problems. CSCL could be better understood through various theories that are based on certain fundamental postulations. These theories include socio-cultural theory, constructivism theory, self-regulation learning, situated cognition, cognitive apprenticeship, problem-based learning, cognitive flexibility theory, distributed cognition.

Along with the theoretical aspect, there are seven vital dimensions that are necessary for development and designing of CSCL. “These aspects are: control of collaborative interactions, tasks of collaborative learning, and theories of learning in collaboration, the design of collaborative learning environment, the roles of the peers, the domains of collaboration and the teaching methodologies that inherently support collaboration”. (Dimensions of Collaborative Learning)

Definition and Overview

CSCL can be define in different ways, for example in the book “Exploring foundations for computer-supported collaborative learning” Lipponen, L Department of Psychology, University of Helsinki (2002) defines CSCL as

“Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) is system promising innovations and tools for restructuring teaching-learning processes to prepare students for the emerging knowledge society. CSCL is focused on how collaborative learning supported by technology can enhance peer interaction and work in groups, and how collaboration and technology facilitate sharing and distributing of knowledge and expertise among community members.”

The encyclopedia “Wikipedia” defines CSCL

“CSCL supports and facilitates group processes and group dynamics in ways that are not achievable by face-to-face, but they are not designed to replace face-to-face communication. This type of learning is typically tailored for use by multiple learners working at the same workstation or across networked machines, working synchronously or asynchronously”

Vivekanandan Suresh Kumar (1996) defines CSCL

“CSCL could be employed to address concept learning, problem solving, and designing. Concept learning deals with a goal as a single entity while the other two deal with a goal in terms of sub-goals. Further, designing is distinguished from problem solving in the sense that the number of solutions in problem solving is finite and computationally easier to represent”

 The above definitions clearly describe that CSCL is meant to reinforce students to learn together efficiently. The system not only functions to communicate ideas and information but also work to impart feedback on problem solving activities. CSCL is most striving system of modern world education that is based on the ambition that computer supported systems can effectively work to achieve those objective which may not be possible in face to face communication. The system is modified specially for the use of multiple learners and their interactions could be monitored as well as controlled by the System workstation. CSCL concentrates on refining and incorporating the learning process of collaborative partners in a technology based environment. It allows students to learn in more realistic and information enriched arrangement.

Along with positive visions of CSCL, social psychological researches throw light on certain challenges and difficulties that are associated with this system. The researchers argue that every time the system is not beneficial because there are some problems that may occur when this system is under operation. The first disadvantage is noticed as “Free-rider Effect” which means that the individual member or members of team off-load cognitive responsibilities to the other members of the group ( Kerr & Bruun; Salomon 1993). The second disadvantage is “Status Sensitivity” that high ability members may dominate the group work. (Dembo & McAuliffe, 1991). “Sucker Effect” is another point which means that to avoid the free-rider effect an active member of the group may expend less cognitive effort on team work(, Kerr, 1993).

Theoretical Foundations for CSCL

There are many theories that claim to provide better understanding of CSCL. These theories are supported by the hypothesis that individual are active agents and they persistently seek and construct knowledge within a significant framework. Jy wana Daphne Lin Hsiao Professor University of Texas (1996) stated these theories as followed

Socio-cultural theory (based on Vygotsky’s inter subjectiveness and Zone of Proximal Development), “constructivism theory, self-regulation learning (skill, will, and execute control), situated cognition, cognitive apprenticeship, problem-based learning, cognitive flexibility theory and distributed cognition theory”. Following is the brief description of these theories.

(CSCL Theories by Jy Wana Daphne Lin Hsiao)

Socio-Cultural Theory

“Socio-cultural theory of learning emphasizes that human intelligence originates in our society or culture, and individual cognitive gain occurs first through interpersonal (interaction with social environment) than intrapersonal” (internalization). (Miller, 1995)

The socio-culture theory is based upon the Vygotsky’s theory who conducted a four year research and finally came out with the result that “students can gain new strategies through peer collaboration by interpersonal discourse” Forman and Cazden (1985). He presents the idea that “the potential for cognitive development is limited to a certain time span which he calls the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) where as ZPD is a region of activities that individuals can navigate with the help of more capable peers, adults, or artifacts”. The findings of this research became the base for a CSCL theory as it was claimed that this approach and concept of ZPD could be effectively engaged in the study of Computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL) environment.

Constructivism Theory:

“Constructivism theory views that knowledge is not ‘about’ the world, but rather ‘constitutive’ of the world” (Sherman, 1995). According to this theory it is said that knowledge is not any fixed or permanent thing but it is something that could be achieved by individuals through their own thoughts about any particular object. This theory works to construct close relations between learning communities so that they can have effective collaboration practice. The theory provides individual an authentic environment where they can develop and sharpen their abilities to monitor and examine their performance and learning. This way people have a deep look on the problems and they develop frameworks and strategies for solving problems with shared information and techniques.

Problem-Based Learning Theory

The Problem-based learning (PBL) anchored instruction concept was inspired by the “inert knowledge problem” which states that “the knowledge can be recallable only when individual is questioned explicitly in the context in which it was learned” (CTGV, 1993). The theory emphasizes that it is crucial to create an anchor which can enable students to notice their problem and give attention to their solutions. This theory was actually come into existence in order to help medical students to learn the basic biomedical sciences but after that this theory has been also used in other fields like engineering and architecture.

Distributed Cognition Theory

The theory of Distributed Cognition is based on the principle of interaction between individual, environment and culture. The theory argues that individuals can not carry their learning in isolation. The theory of distributed cognition reveals three important key points regarding the collaborated learning. “First, the increasingly important role that technology plays to handle intellectual tasks to ease individual cognitive load. Second, the reemphasis on Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, a theory that describes how the character of social interactions and externally mediated action makes explicit certain processes that come to be internalized in the private thought of the individual. Third, dissatisfied with cognition is only in one’s mind, shifting attention on cognitions that are situated dependent and distributed in nature” (Salomon, 1994).

Cognitive Flexibility Theory

This theory is based on the phenomenon stated by Spiro & Jehng in1990. They suggest that there should be a combination of well and ill-structured environment in the early stages of learning so that the beginners can easily cope with the ground knowledge. Cognitive flexibility theory works to describe that how the general knowledge could be transferred in ill-structured domains. “The theory also demands to apply cognitive flexibility and constructivism theories into designing instruction in ill-structured pastures in order to promote advanced knowledge acquisition.” (CSCL Theories by Jy Wana Daphne Lin Hsiao)

Cognitive Apprenticeship Theory

The leading principles of cognitive Apprenticeship theory were described by Wilson and Cole in 1994. They point out that this theory is characterized with “heuristic content, situated learning, modeling, coaching, articulation, reflection, exploration, and order in increasing complexity” (Collins et al, 1995). The theory reflects the idea that there is a common culture of learning for students that allows them to interact with each other and share their knowledge and thoughts related to common issues. This interaction and discussion between students is the key foundation of CSCL because it facilitates students to gain knowledge based on the prior experiences of their collaborated partners.

The College of Education at the University of Illinois developed the “Teaching Teleapprenticeships model” based on this theory. The model was aimed at extending face-to-face apprenticeships of traditional teacher education through electronic network collaborative learning environments. In this way this theory ties teacher education and practice teaching together.

Situated Cognition Theory

“Situated cognition, a new paradigm of learning, emphasizes apprenticeship, coaching, collaboration, multiple practice, articulation of learning skills, stories, and technology.” (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989)

 The theory revealed that cognitive tasks could not be set apart from social tasks as there is social component present in every cognitive task. The collaboration between the students allows them to communicate about the strategies to enhance their understandings about certain issues.

Self-Regulated Learning / Metacognition Theory

Schoenfeld states that “self-regulation has the potential to increase the meaningfulness of students’ classroom learning, and the creation of a “mathematics culture “in the classroom best fosters metacognition”. Flavell defines metacognition as “one’s knowledge regarding one’s own cognition as well as control and monitor one’s own cognition”

Self regulated learning theory is based on individual thinking that he can use his skills and knowledge to achieve certain goals in collaboration process. In this way he accepts the responsibility of initiating the learning process on the behalf of his abilities. This acceptance of responsibility plays a vital role in leaning process.

Technology-Mediated Collaborative Learning

New technologies have revolutionarily playing active role in teaching and learning process and now the educational world in busy in developing standards for the usage of there technologies in their system so that they can effectively promote instructional activities, improve learning processes, and enable educational innovation. Technology mediated leaning could be conducted in two ways, World-Wide Web (WWW) and Groupware. “The World-Wide Web is a distributed collection of hypermedia documents/objects that are linked together. Web servers store the information (text, images, sound clips, video clips), and Web clients or browsers access this information over the Internet, whereas Groupware, is a relatively new category of software that helps groups and teams collaborate, learn and work together.” (Waleed A. Muhanna Proffessor Ohio State University)

The consequent utilization of both these technologies can improve the efficiency and effectiveness of education and the learning process can also be benefited. As Collis ; Smith, described in 1997 that “there is an increasing amount of research supporting the critical influence that the choice of communication technology and the design of any instrumentation, used commonly by the learners, can have on both the process and the product of collaborative distance learning”.

There are some features of Technology mediated collaborative learning which are (1) text-based and computer-mediated, (2) many-to-many, (3) time- and place-independent, (4) long distance, and (5) distributed via hypermedia links. (Mark Warschauer, 1997)

Asynchronous Learning

According to time matrix CSCL system can be divided in to two categories, Synchronous (same time) vs. Asynchronous (different times). Synchronous tools are those arrangements that are meant to build a simultaneous interaction between the members of a group. Video conferencing is an example of simultaneous interaction whereas Asynchronous tools are those devices that facilitate individuals to work alone and play a role in the group process for example E-Mail.

Asynchronous learning tools include computer conferencing, Video conferencing, Fax, electronic mail, and the internet. These tools enable to conduct various educational and learning activities with lot of flexibility as it does not require the gathering of all learners at same place and same time that’s why it is also called as “Time- and place-independent communication”. Asynchronous learning broaden the capabilities of online collaboration because it gives student open opportunity to initiate communication with teacher or group member anytime and also through email there could be more in-depth and deliberate analysis of issues and problems

Wang Y.M, teacher at University of Oregon at Eugene conducted a study in 1993 which threw light on the benefits of asynchronous learning. The study results explained that “the students in the computer group wrote more per session; they also ask more questions, responded to more questions and used a variety of language functions more frequently than did the students in the paper-and-pencil group”.

Asynchronous Computer Conferencing and Collaboration Software – Strengths and Weaknesses

Various benefits are associated with asynchronous computer conferencing and collaboration software. It allows collaborated members to publish and distribute multimedia documents through a link to other members which may be all over the world. It gives an easy access to the authentic information at any place and at any time. This learning system gives an ability to study, participate and also to initiate conversation without the restrictions of time or place and students can develop independence and self-directed nature. It is very easy to maintain a record of all the communication activities for future reference.

However there are some weaknesses related to this learning pattern. Students lack face-to-face contact with teacher and group members so they may fail to reassure each other’s messages. Verbal communication is a quick process whereas when a person starts writing for this type of learning he may take a long time in writing in details. There are certain problems that can easily worked out in direct communication but in Asynchronous Computer Conferencing one give his opinion then he has to wait for the response after that the discussion could carry on so it may take along time as compared with face to face or direct learning environment. There is always a possibility that the strong members can dominate the process so the weaker may be set aside and they just watch what is going on. There may be the “free-ride” activity by some students as they can get benefits from other people work and don’t contribute in the process. There is also a chance that the teacher may not get the quick response by the students as they may fail to approach the question due to any technical hurdle.

CSCL and Project-based learning

Project based learning is an effective way to motivate students by engaging them in their self oriented activities. In this way students develop their interest, questions and work out at their own to fine the answers and solutions to the problems. It’s an interdisciplinary learning where students make connections outside the classroom in order to conduct their studies. The project based learning is considered very meaningful and beneficial for students. When it some to project based learning with Computer Supported Collaborated Learning, there comes a variety of opportunities available to students. Technological instruments can give boost to their study. They can use the Multimedia component for the planning, developing and presenting of their projects. Project based work increase the coloration between the students and they can get adequate feedback by group members and teachers in order to conduct their work in more comprehensive manner.  Students have an extended time frame and they have opportunity in project based work that they can plan revise and reflect their learning and they can also widen the scope of their study.


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