Daniel D. Suthers Department of Information and Computer Sciences University of Hawai'i at Manoa 1680 East West Road POST 303A Honolulu HI 96822 firstname.lastname@example.org
For a number of years, the author and his colleagues (see acknowledgments) have been building, testing, and refining a diagrammatic environment intended to support secondary school children's learning of critical inquiry skills in the context of science ( Suthers et al. 1997). During this time, a refocus on collaborative learning led to a major change in how we viewed the role of the interface representations. Rather than being a medium of communication or a formal record of the argumentation process, we came to view the representations as resources for conversation ( Roschelle 1994).
These observations, coupled with the fact that other projects with similar goals were using radically different representational systems, led the author to propose a more systematic study of the ways in which these different representational systems can influence collaborative learning discourse. The differences in representational notations that are provided by existing software for critical inquiry are striking. The range includes hypertext/hypermedia systems ( Guzdial et al. 1997, O'Neill & Gomez 1994, Scardamalia et al. 1992), argument mapping environments ( Ranney et al. 1995, Smolensky et al. 1987, Suthers el al. 1997), containment representations ( Bell 1997), and matrices ( Puntambekar et al. 1997). Yet there is a lack of systematic studies comparing the effects of external representations on collaborative learning discourse. Given that these representations define the fundamental character of software intended to guide learning, a systematic comparison is overdue.
Substantial research has been conducted concerning the role of external representations in individual problem solving, generally showing that the kind