Victor Kaptelinin1, Michael Cole2
1 Umeå University, Sweden
2 University of California, San Diego, USA
The Fifth Dimension is an afterschool setting where collaborative learning is organized around computer game playing. Learning and cooperation in the Fifth Dimension are analyzed in the paper from the point of view of Activity Theory, a conceptual approach originating from Russian cultural-historical psychology. It is proposed that the mechanisms underlying the influence of social context on learning and development are mutual transformations between individual and collective activities. Three distinct phases of intersubjectivity "life cycles" are identified: (1) external coordination of individual activities, (2) emerging group identity, and (3) transfer of group experience to individual activities. Implications of the study for design and evaluation of CSCL environments are discussed.
Keywords --activity theory, computer games, educational setting
There are two distinct (though not mutually exclusive) views on the role of social context in human learning and development. According to the first view, learning is an entirely individual process which can be facilitated or inhibited depending on how individuals interact to each other. For instance, the need to communicate an understanding of the problem at hand to other participants in a joint problem solving can force people to formulate their ideas more carefully and, thus, improve reflection and planning (cf. Blaye & Light, 1995).
The second view holds that social context cannot be reduced to a set of external "modifiers". It advocates that individual learning and social interactions are different aspects of the same phenomenon. This view is often associated with Vygotskian notions of "inter- psychological" functions and the "Zone of Proximal Development" (or ZPD, Vygotsky, 1978), which are becoming more and more popular in the field of CSCL (e.g., Kaptelinin, in press; Koschmann, 1996, O'Malley, 1995). Vygotsky claimed that there are always two steps in acquiring a new ability: first, the ability emerges as distributed between people (i.e., it exists as an "inter-psychological" function) and, second, it is mastered by individuals (i.e., it becomes an "intra-psychological" function) ( Vygotsky, 1983). Having acquired a new ability, the individual can contribute more to socially distributed processes. Therefore, intra-individual and inter-individual functions mutually constitute each other. In other words, not only does collaboration between the learner and other people change some pre-existing individual phenomena, but it also directs and shapes both the general orientation and specific content of individual development. Participation in a collective activity lays the foundation for the next step in individual development or, according to Vygotsky, creates the Zone of Proximal Development, which is defined as "the distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers" ( Vygotsky, 1978). Undoubtedly, these ideas have profound implications for education, including those related to development and implementation of computer-based environments intended to support collaborative learning. The attempts to apply these ideas in the field of CSCL have revealed, however, the need for a more specific and concrete understanding of the mechanisms