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Master’ Thesis: Sources of Collaborative Learning

ArticleⅠ:Pierre Dillenbourg (1999). What do You Mean by Collaborative Learning?

1. Introduction

In this chapter, the author explores various aspects of the definition of collaborative learning, not to establish the correct definition, but to help the readers to put the different chapters in perspective.

The broadest definition of ‘collaborative learning’ is that it is a situation in which two or more people learn or attempt to learn something together. Each element of this definition can be interpreted in different ways:

“Two or more” means a pair, a small group (3-5 subjects), a class (20-30 subjects), a community (a few hundred or thousands of people), a society (several thousand or millions of people) … and all intermediate levels.

“Learn something” means follow a course, study course material, perform learning activities such as problem solving, learn from lifelong work practice …

“Together” means different forms of interaction: face-to-face or computer-mediated, synchronous or not, frequent in time or not, whether it is a truly joint effort or whether the labor is divided in a systematic way.

2. The variety of scales

The different situations create objects of study with different scales: from 2 to 30 subjects, from 20 minutes to one year. Most empirical research on the effectiveness of collaborative learning is concerned with a small scale: of 2 to 5 subjects collaborating for one hour or so. But ‘computer-supported collaborative learning’ (CSCL) is often applied to situations in which a group of 40 subjects follows a course over one year. So the author thinks that the large or small scales of collaborative learning depend on the application of different courses.

In this book, it is mainly about the ‘small scale’, i.e. collaboration between 2 or a few human or artificial agents for a well-defined learning or problem solving task. Learning is not studied in an instructional setting, but as personal and group development in work practices. This reveals a variety of understandings of the word ‘learning’ in ‘collaborative learning’ or the variety of tasks which are studied in collaborative learning research.

3. The variety of meaning for “learning”

The variety of uses of the word “learning” reflect two distinct understandings of ‘collaborative learning’: (1) the pedagogical sense is prescriptive: one asks two or more people to collaborate because it is expected that they will learn efficiently; (2) the psychological sense is descriptive: one observes that two or more people have learned and collaboration is viewed as the mechanism which caused learning.

The words ‘collaborative learning’ describes a situation in which specific forms of interaction among people are expected to occur, which would trigger learning mechanisms, but there is no guarantee that the expected interactions will occur actually. So a general concern is to develop ways to increase the probability that some types of interaction occur. These ways include: (1) to set up initial condition: this way can increase the probability that some types of interaction occur is to carefully design the situation. (2) to over-specify the ‘collaboration’ contract with a scenario based on rules: this approach tends to turn collaborative learning into a method. (3) to scaffold productive interactions by encompassing interaction rules in the medium: the teacher could specify interaction rules for face to face collaboration. In CSCL, interaction rules can be reinforced by encompassing them in the design of the medium. (4) to monitor and regulate the interactions: the teacher retains a role in the success of collaborative learning. in the context of CSCL, the external regulator needs specific tools for monitoring the interactions occurring in different places and times.

4. The variety of meaning for ‘collaboration’

The adjective collaborative concerns four aspects of learning: (1) a situation can be characterized as more or less collaborative; (2) the interactions which take place
between the group members can be more or less collaborative; (3) some learning mechanisms are more intrinsically collaborative; (4) the effects of collaborative learning is not because it is used to define collaboration itself, but because the divergent views concerning how to measure the effects of collaborative learning participate in the terminological wilderness of the field.

4.1 Situations characterized as “collaborative”

A situation is termed ‘collaborative’ if peers are more or less at the same level, can perform the same actions, have a common goal and work together. The first two concern the degree of symmetry in the interaction. The second concern is that one generally expects collaborative agents to have common goals, whereas competition relies on conflicting goals. The third concerns the degree of divisions of labor among group members. In collaboration, partners do the work ‘together’, however, some spontaneous division may occur even when two people do work together.

4.2 Interactions characterized as “collaborative”

There are three criteria for defining collaborative interactions: interactivity, synchronicity, and negotiability.

Interactivity means a collaborative situation should be quite interactive. These interactions influence the peers’ cognitive processes. Synchronicity means ‘doing something together’, which implies synchronous communication. Negotiability means collaborative interactions are negotiable. The collaborative partners should negotiate at the task level, and they still need to negotiate how to interact (meta-communication). Negotiation only occurs if there is space for negotiation and the space for misunderstanding.

4.3 Process characterized as “collaborative”

In this section, the author reviews the mechanisms which have been studied with individuals and then extended to pairs and the mechanisms which seem to be more specific to collaborative learning.

There are some mechanisms known to be central to individual cognition: (1) Induction: The grounding mechanism is inductive since the learner must induce patterns relating referring expressions with referents. (2) Cognitive load: in collaboration, the horizontal division of labor into reduces the amount of processing performed by each individual. Reduced cognitive load may explain why regulating one’s partner processes is easier than self-regulation and therefore why groups’ members improve their regulatory skills. (3) (Self-) explanation: the concept of explanation is related to social situations, but it has been imported into studies of individual cognition, both in psychology and artificial intelligence. (4) Conflict: the concept of conflict also concerns both the intra-individual and inter-individual planes.

There are other learning processes would be specific to social interactions: (1) Internalization: this process implies social interaction. (2) Appropriation: it means an agent reinterprets his own action or utterance under the light of what his partner does or says next.

4.4 Effects of collaborative learning

There are two methodological issues: the first issue is stated as ‘effect of what?’ A collaborative learning situation includes a variety of contexts and interactions. The researchers should not treat collaboration as a ‘black box’, but zoom in the collaborative interactions to gain better understanding of the mechanisms. The second methodological issue concerns the mode of evaluation. The effects of collaborative learning are often assessed by individual task performance measure. It has been objected that a more valid assessment should be to measure group performance.

5. Theories of collaborative learning

A theory of collaborative learning concern four items: criteria for defining the situation, the interactions, processes, and effects. Those items have reciprocal relations: there is bi-directional link between the situation and the interaction, between the interactions and the process, between the processes and the effects. So viewing the group as a unit can both be understood as a theoretical standpoint and can be understood as the description of an effect or an achievement.

ArticleⅡ: Ilknur Istifci& Zeki Kaya(2011). Collaborative Learning in Teaching a Second Language through the Internet

1. Introduction

The Internet has been widely used in education and become more and more important now. The Internet has been an important learning environment for teaching and distance education recently.

2. Main goal of teaching through the Internet

Written, voiced, and visual communication among people who are in different places can be supplied by teaching through the Internet. The main goals of this method are that providing distance education to students; teaching through the Internet can be conducted in campuses; students can join the classes and discussions about the courses among them and experts whenever and wherever they want apart from the scheduled hours.

3. Interaction in teaching through the Internet

The Internet has four kinds of interactive teaching environments: web sites, text based conferences, audio conferences, and video conferences. Every student can continue the lesson equally. Participation in group conference and continuous contact with teachers has a positive effect in students’ motivation; meanwhile, teachers play a crucial role in the period, for teaching through the Internet makes more individual and collaborative learning possibilities and teachers can interact with students individually or collaboratively. So interactivity is the key to use using teaching and learning through the Internet effectively.

4. Collaborative learning in interactive environments

The Internet-based interactive environments offer the interaction which supports the learners in learning. Learners can work with each other, and interact and collaborate with their tutors and peers in different time and place. Students and teachers share their knowledge and ideas via spoken, face-to-face speech and written modes according to their communicational types. Saving the discussions make students to review their message, engage in cognitive analysis and plan their future discussions.

Students’ working collaboratively can support the fulfillment of learning goals. Collaborative learning is beneficial for the teachers who want their students to gain benefit and share it with the other students. The group members have to know the group is a whole and every member is responsible for the success or failure of the group. They need mutual and positive communication, review their work and set purposes for the development, and so on.

5. The role of teachers in collaborative learning

Teachers and directors have four basic roles to provide collaborative learning:

(1) Educational role: have the expert knowledge and view; focus on discussion in critical points; ask questions in discussions and react students’ participation; combine different comments; synthesize main points to refresh new topics that are emerged.

(2) Social role: encourage the active participation of all the participants; evaluate active participation of all the participants; help group members discover their different views and ideas; have the ability to create a clear environment in which group reports are created and learning is accepted.

(3) Administrative role: adjust the schedule of teaching; determine main rules for interaction and clarify them; determine the goals of discussions; enable the implementation of the application and interaction with his/her high leadership qualities.

(4) Technical role: be certain about the participants’ recognition of hardware and software; organize user license rights; organize the order of the conference; organize pre-applications related to special discussion topics or group project works for small group.

There are still five-step model which can develop effective online administration: enter the system and motivation; socialization; share of knowledge; structure the knowledge; foster students to be educator.

Collaborative learning in teaching through the Internet offers some encouraging possibilities to students who construct knowledge and control their learning.

ArticleⅢ: Jeremy Roschelle & Stephanie D. Teasley(1995). The Construction of Shared Knowledge in Collaborative Problem Solving

1. Introduction

In the article, the authors concern collaborative problem solving involving a computer simulation of concepts in physics. It happens in a negotiated and shared conceptual space, constructed through the external meditational framework of shared language, situation, and activity. It focuses on the process of collaboration by using a microanalysis of one dyad’s work. The finding shows that successful collaboration involves a large degree of mutual engagement, joint decision making, and discussion.

2. The task: The Envisioning Machine

The Envisioning Machine (EM) is a “direct manipulation graphical simulation of the concepts of velocity and acceleration”. There are two windows, the “Observable World” and the “Newtonian World”. The Observable World displays a simulation of a ball moving across the screen. It represents the goal motion. The Newtonian World displays a particle with velocity and acceleration vectors. Using the mouse, the user can manipulate the settings of these vectors. The specific EM activity used in the study involved matching the goal motion displayed in the Observable World by adjusting velocity and acceleration vectors on the particle displayed in the Newtonian World.

There are two 15years old male subjects who are asked to work together on this activity involving this computer simulation—The Envisioning Machine. They worked on the EM activity in three sessions, each about 45 minutes long.

2.1 What is Envisioning Machine Knowledge?

In the model, the EM activity is seen as a form of difference-reduction, and the difference-reduction takes place in two stages: first, students set the directions of the vectors to match to overall shape of a motion. Second, students set the lengths of the vectors to match the speed at which the particle moves along the shape. The types of knowledge corresponding to these two stages are knowledge of configurations and knowledge of qualitative proportionalities.

Configurations relate the direction of the vectors to the shape of the motion produced. The velocity vector always points in the direction with which the motion begins. The qualitative proportionalities is a relationship between two variables that states that a increase in one variable will result in an increase in the other. EM knowledge encodes qualitative regularities in the behavior of the EM.

3. Framework for analyzing collaboration

The authors describe how the communicative exchanges function to construct and maintain a Joint Problem Space from pragmatics conversation analysis and protocol analysis. They will identify how social interaction promotes or inhibits learning in key segments of the problem solving process. So they hold that collaborative problem solving consists of two concurrent activities: solving the problem together and building a JPS.

They also discuss some categories of discourse events that have proved useful for their analysis: (1) Turn-taking. The discourse units such as questions, acceptance, disagreements, and repairs display various specific discourse forms available for taking a conversational turn. (2) Socially distributed productions. One type of compound sentence is IF-THEN form. In an IF-THEN collaborative completion, the antecedent and consequent are produced on separate turns. An IF-THEN form collaborative completion is called ‘socially distributed production’ because its content consists of a production rule, while its form is socially distributed across turns. (3) Repairs. Repairs are the methods by which participants in talk can deal with problems or troubles in speaking, hearing, or comprehensions of dialogue. (4) Narrations. Narrations are a verbal strategy that enables partners to monitor each other’s actions and interpretations. Continued attention to narrations and action can signal acceptances and shared understandings. (5) Language and action. Action and gesture can serve as presentations and acceptances. The simultaneous production of matching language and action by separate partners can produce an effective division of labor.

4. Challenge six

The authors’ approach will to be to look in detail at the two subjects’ construction of a shared conception of the task in “challenge six”, which is the sixth motion that they worked on.

The detailed analysis shows that students progressed through challenge six in two main stages: first, they established the correct directions for the Newtonian World vectors. Second, they determined the correct lengths for the vectors.

The reasons to focus on challenge six: (1) Challenge six began with strong individual contributions and ended with strong shared contributions. They make authors to examine processes that the participants use to resolve impasses in shared knowledge. (2) Important aspects of the concepts of velocity and acceleration were learned during this challenge. They make authors to investigate process that students use to construct new element of shared knowledge. (3) The collaboration during this challenge was successful from the viewpoint of authors and students. The collaboration successful not because the students solve the problem of making the motions the same, but also because they construct shared knowledge into later challenges.

5.  Conclusions

The study points to the conclusion that collaboration does not just happen because individuals are co-present; individual must make a conscious, continued effort to coordinate their language and activity with respect to shared knowledge. Collaborators use the overall turn-taking structure of task, and specific discourse forms such as narration, questions, socially-distributed productions, and repairs in service of their mutual understanding.

The data from study display the importance of computer-supported collaborative learning: the use of computer is a mean for disambiguating language; the use of computer activity can resolve impasses; the computer is a device that invited and constrained students’ interpretations.

ArticleⅣ: Dillenbourg, P, Baker, M, Blaye, A &O’malley, C (1996). The Evolution of Research on Collaborative Learning

1. Introduction

This article presents some development of collaborative learning in theoretical and empirical terms, and considers the implications of changes for tools and methods with which to observe and analyze interactions between learners. Meanwhile, it still distinguishes the definition and shows some research about collaboration and cooperation.

2. Theoretical issues: the individual or the group as the unit

We can find three different theoretical positions between the “individual” and the “group”: socio-constructivist, socio-cultural and shared (or distributed) cognition approaches.

2.1 The socio-constructivist approach

The socio-constructivist approach enhances the role of inter-actions with others rather than action themselves. It shows that individual cognitive development is seen as the result of a spiral of causality: a given level of individual development allows participation in some social interactions which make new individual states and more possible sophisticated social interaction. So peer interaction produces superior performance on individual post-test than individual training, and subjects who are at the same level of cognitive development but with different perspectives also benefit from conflictual interactions.

2.2 The socio-cultural approach

The socio-cultural approach focuses on individual development in the context of social interaction and causal relationship between social interaction and individual cognitive change. Vygotsky said that development appears on two planes: first on the inter-psychological, then on the intra-psychological. Internalization refers to the genetic link between the social and the inner planes. Social speech is use for interaction with others, inner speech is used to talk to ourselves, to reflect and think. Inner speech serves the function of self-regulation.

2.3 The shared cognition approach

The concept of shared cognition is intertwined with the “situated cognition” theory. Some researchers said that the environment is an integral part of cognitive activity, and not only a set of circumstances in context-independent cognitive processes are performed. This approach offers a new perspective on the socio-cognitive and the socio-cultural approaches, and focuses on the social plane where emergent conceptions are analyzed as a group product.

3. Empirical issues: effect, conditions and interactions

3.1 The “effect” paradigm

Some research shows that collaboration is in itself neither efficient nor inefficient. Collaboration works under some conditions, and it is the aim of research to determine the conditions under which collaborative learning is efficient.

3.2 The “condition” paradigm

3.2.1 Group heterogeneity

Group heterogeneity is the most studied variable. Scholars have considered objective and subjective differences in expertise. They attempt to determine the optimal degree of differences. If it is too small, it fails to trigger interactions. If the difference is too large, there may be not interaction. Heterogeneity is also function of the size of the group. Actually, difference between group size seem to disappear when children are given the opportunity to interact with others in the class.

3.2.2 Individual prerequisites

It is clear that collaboration does not benefit an individual if he or she is below a certain developmental level, so certain skills in understanding other people’s mental states are required on collaborative learning.

3.2.3 Task features

Tasks that have been used in collaborative learning from a Vygotskian perspective include skill acquisition, joint planning, categorization, and memory tasks. And conservation and coordination tasks involve perspective-taking, planning, and problem solving. The research shows that the nature of the task will influence the result of activity.

3.2.4 Interactions between variable

Some evidence displays that how dyads or groups would be composed with respect to skills and abilities may depend on what learning outcomes one is interested in and what tasks are involved. The type of task may interact with the developmental level of the learner and the nature of the dyad.

3.3 The “interactions” paradigm

3.3.1 Eexplanation

The level of elaboration can be considered according to providing a detailed explanation. Elaborated explanations are not related to the explainee’s performance, but they are positively correlated with the explainer’s performance. Meanwhile, self-explanation can be observed when a learner is forced to explain an example to himself. An explanation is not a message delivered by one peer to others, but the result of joint attempts to understand each other.

3.3.2 Control

The explication of the problem solving strategy provides the opportunity to observe and internalize the partner’s strategy. The researchers said that making the strategy explicit is the only way to participate in each other’s strategy and establish a joint strategy.

4. Tools for observing interactions

4.1 Two human users collaborate on a computer-based task

Several experiments suggest that group work at the computer may enhance the benefit derived from the collaborative learning situation. Different interfaces, different computer-based tasks, and activities may yield different interactions and learning outcomes.

4.2 Computer-mediated collaboration

The computer-supported collaborative work (CSCW) covers communication systems from simple electronic mail to more advanced “groupware”. The broad bandwidth is afforded greater opportunities for collaboration, and face-to-face communication is more effective than audio-only communication for tasks.

4.3 Human-computer collaborative learning

Human-computer collaboration refers to situations where the system and the human users share the same set of actions. There are two types of system supported collaborative activities: apprenticeship systems and learning environments. The advantage of human-computer collaborative systems for the study of collaboration is that the experimenter can tune several parameters regarding to the pair composition.

5. Tools for analyzing interactions

5.1 Analysis categories

Most researchers use the following categories of analysis: (1) social/cognitive, (2) cognitive/metacognitive, and (3) task/communicative. They distinguish management of communicational and social relations from performance of cognitive and metacognitive aspects of the extra-communicative task.

5.2  Conversation models

5.2.1 Negotiation

In the context of joint problem-solving, negotiation is a process students attempt to attain agreement on aspects of the task domain and the interaction. There are three negotiation strategies can be used: mutual adjustment, competitive argumentation, and “stand pat”. Another type of negotiation is negotiation of meaning, attaining shared understanding of meanings of utterances is a necessary condition for collaborative activity.

6. Synthesis

Collaborative is a social structure in which two or more people interact with each other in some circumstance, and some types of interaction occur that have a positive effect. Verbal interactions provide more tractable ways in which to tackle the development of computational models of collaborative learning.

ArticleⅤ: George Head (2003). Effective Collaboration: Deep Collaboration as an Essential Element of the Learning Process

1. Introduction

In this paper, the author addresses the collaboration on two levels: the functional level referred as functional collaboration and a deeper level referred as effective collaboration. The author said that functional collaboration is a process that can be used to support learning, while effective collaboration is an integral element of the learning process itself. The author still explores the implications of effective collaboration for teachers in terms of different communities: community of support, community of practice, and community of learner.

2. Functional vs effective collaboration

The functional collaboration can be seen as individuals behaving in a way that benefits each participant differently: the teacher is allowed to teach, and the learner can learn. In contrast, effective collaboration can be seen as a group of people behaving in a way that not only produces individual benefits, but leads to a degree of success belonging to the group and can only be achieved by group members working together in this fashion. Collaboration comprises a series of related acts such as coordinating, consulting, communicating and cooperating.

3. The operation of effective collaboration: Vygotsky

An explanation of how effective collaboration works can be selected from a consideration of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). The most common educational explanation of the ZPD relates to scaffolding, in this model, the ZPD is the distance between what a learner can achieve on his or her own and what can be learned in collaboration with a more able or experienced adult or peer. While there are other interpretations, such as cultural model between active knowledge, understood knowledge in nature and instruction, and distance between the daily actions of individuals and collectively generated activity.

4. Communities of support

Teachers need to collaborate with a range of interested parties, including children, their parents, other teachers, social workers, and educational psychologists. They can discuss and resolve to create new understanding and strategies to help young people manage their lives and learning. The group has become a community, creating a shared understanding of the nature and purpose of the group and a common sense of mutual benefit. When they work in this way, they create the opportunity to develop from a supportive group to become a “community of support” that creates the conditions and strategies necessary to achieve its goals.

5. Communities of practice

The value of a community of practice stems from individuals sharing their ideas, experiences, and practices to build new knowledge within the community. They achieve this through a process of debate, challenge and experiment. The research shows that a community of practice is seem to make a valuable contribution to teachers’ professional development.

6. Communities of learners

It displays that effective collaboration is a desired element of the teaching and learning process. Communities of learners have their roots within schools and classrooms, if the interactions between teachers and students operate at the functional level of coordination, cooperation and communication, then the class will be a community of learners. Collaboration at this level may help to create conditions for learning. But since the learners will be at different stage in their learning at different time, a community of learners will consist of a range of multiple, overlapping zones of proximal development that foster growth, and the teacher acts as a mediator to guide the learning of the students through questioning, reflecting and making suggestions which is a type of dialectical approach to learning.


1. Pierre Dillenbourg (1999). What do You Mean by Collaborative Learning? In P. Dillenbourg (Ed) Collaborative-learning: Cognitive and Computational Approaches. (pp1-19). Oxford: Elsevier

2. Ilknur Istifci& Zeki Kaya(2011). Collaborative Learning in Teaching a Second Language through the Internet. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, October 2011, ISSN 1302-6488 Volume: 11 Number: 3 Article 3.

3. Jeremy Roschelle & Stephanie D. Teasley(1995). The Construction of Shared Knowledge in Collaborative Problem Solving. In C. O’Malley (Ed.), Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (pp. 67-97). Berlin: Springer.

4. Dillenbourg, P, Baker, M, Blaye, A &O’malley, C (1996). The Evolution of Research on Collaborative Learning. In E. spada& P. Reiman(Eds) Learning in Humans and Machine: Towards an interdisciplinary learning science. Pp189-211. Oxford: Elsevier.

5. George Head (2003). Effective Collaboration: Deep Collaboration as an Essential Element of the Learning Process. Journal of Educational Enquiry, Vol. 4, No. 2, 2003. pp47-62


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