Heisawn Jeong and Michelene T. H. Chi
Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pittsburgh
This study reports preliminary findings from a study that investigated (1) the kind and extent of shared knowledge constructed after collaborative learning and (2) the relationship between the construction of shared knowledge and individual learning. In this study, college dyads collaborated to learn a biology concept. Preliminary findings showed that pairs shared similar mental models and knowledge pieces after collaborative learning and that the amount of collaborative knowledge is related to the amount of learning. Such results suggest that pairs engage in shared learning activities during collaboration which seems to lead to increased learning. Ideas for further analysis are discussed as well as implications of this study for a computer support system for collaborative learning.
Various studies have demonstrated that collaboration is beneficial ( Azmitia, 1988; Doise, Mugny, & Perret- Clermont , 1975, 1976; Ellis, Klahr, & Siegler, 1993). Although these benefits are not universal and vary across tasks and individual students (e.g., Tudge, 1989), students seem to learn better or solve more problems correctly when they collaborate with other people, especially when the task is conceptual and complex ( Gabbert, Johnson, & Johnson, 1986). Collaboration also seems to have other beneficial effects such as improving social relations, or increasing students' motivation ( Sharan, 1980). Thus, for various reasons, collaboration is increasingly viewed as an effective instructional medium. More and more educators are assigning collaborative work in their classrooms, and computer support systems for collaborative learning are receiving increasing attention.
Despite such popularity, however, the exact mechanism of collaborative learning is not yet well understood. While researchers have proposed that several factors such as cognitive conflicts ( Doise et al., 1975, 1976), partner expertise ( Azmitia, 1988), or increased amount of verbalization ( Teasley, 1992) are responsible for improving learning in collaboration, these factors do not provide an explanation of how collaboration actually works. Moreover, there are several empirical studies that contradicted these factors, showing that the effect of collaboration does not seem to depend solely on the expertise of the partner ( Ellis et al., 1993), the presence of cognitive conflict itself ( Bryant, 1982), or sheer amount of talking itself ( Perlmutter, Behrend, Kuo, & Muller, 1989).
A basic premise of social interaction is the need to achieve a "common ground' that makes communication possible ( Clark & Brennan, 1991; Clark & Schaefer, 1989). Based on the reports in anthropology, linguistics, and the organizational sciences, it seems that people share common memories, knowledge, or mental models as a result of working together ( Hardin & Higgins, 1996; Klimoski & Mohammed, 1994; Sherif, 1936). The same process of achieving a shared representation may be occurring during collaborative learning. Collaborative learning has been considered a process of convergence in which people gradually converge on a meaning and achieve a shared representation ( Roschelle, 1992). Thus, one could argue that construction of a shared representation is one mechanism that may explain how people learn during collaborative learning.
However, few studies have examined whether shared representation is actually achieved as a result of collaborative learning. Also, little evidence yet links the amount of learning to the construction of shared knowledge. Thus, the following two questions are addressed in this study: (1) Do people construct a shared representations during collaboration? That is, what kind and how much sharing is actually achieved between collaborating individuals? (2) Does the extent of sharing among interacting partners account for improved learning in each individual partner? In other words, do students who share more knowledge also tend to learn more as a result of collaboration?
To answer these questions, college student dyads were asked to collaborate in learning about a biology concept, the human circulatory system. Detailed assessment of what participants learned about the human circulatory system examined the extent of