David Graves, Maria Klawe
Dept. of Computer Science, University of British Columbia
This paper describes novel research in the area of remote Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL). A multi-media activity (Builder) was designed to allow a pair of players to build a house together, each working from their own computer. Features of the activity include: interactive graphical interface, two- and three-dimensional views, sound feedback, and real-time written and spoken communication. Mathematical concepts, including area, perimeter, volume, and tiling of surfaces, are embedded in the task. A field study with 134 elementary school children was undertaken to assess the learning and collaborative potential of the activity. Specifically the study addressed how different modes of communication and different task directives affected learning, interpersonal attitudes, and the perceived value and enjoyment of the task. It was found that playing led to academic gains in the target math areas, and that the nature of how the task was specified significantly impacted the size of the gains. The mode of communication was found to affect attitudes towards the game and the player's partner. Gender differences were found in attitude to game, communication and partner.
Keywords-- remote CSCL, distance education, electronic games, multi-player games, cooperative learning, gender
Much of the promise and excitement of CSCL rests with the fact that it combines Cooperative Learning with Computer-Assisted Learning (CAL). Cooperative Learning studies have shown positive results both in achievement (task-related learning) [JMJN81] and socio-motivational outcomes [Slav80]. Combining this successful teaching strategy with CAL may be advantageous for the following reasons. Firstly, there are the benefits of CAL itself. It allows flexibility in terms of level of difficulty so that students can proceed at their own pace, and can be useful for visualization and as an easily-manipulated handler of information. CAL can also be intrinsically motivating, particularly in the form of games, and even more so for multi-player games [S91, IUK+94]. Secondly, as [JJS861 have proposed, CSCL provides a potential solution to the drawbacks of CAL. One weakness of CAL is that it may result in less interaction with teachers and classmates and hence not allow for sufficient social modelling or building of social skills and healthy social attitudes. Finally, and of particular relevance for the current study, CSCL provides the potential for remote collaboration. Several investigations into CSCL have looked at co- present collaboration, often with groups working together at one computer. In this study we investigate the potential and limits of remote collaboration. Although co-present collaboration may have several advantages over remote collaboration, there is an increasing interest in and need for support of remote collaboration, as seen, for example, in distance education [GS97, H86]. Current distance education systems, such as WWW-based projects like WebCT [GS97], use computers effectively in the presentation and distribution of learning materials, but there has been little investigation to date on the use of computers to support collaboration in such settings.
The issues addressed in the present study can be summed up in two broad questions:
Can the positive outcomes of Cooperative Learning be achieved in a remote CSCL environment?
How can we best facilitate collaboration within the remote CSCL environment?
The experimental design is focussed primarily on the latter question, with between-group comparisons across elements manipulated within the activity.