Jeff Kupperman, Raven Wallace, and Nathan Bos
School of Education, University of Michigan
In a student Internet research project, 82 ninth-grade students created and used a shared bibliographic database of resources which they found on the World Wide Web. This paper analyzes the students' use of the database in terms of two dimensions: 1) how much students were involved in collaboration as opposed to individually-oriented activities, and 2) how much they were oriented toward knowledge-building as opposed to focusing on completing discrete tasks. Although students used the database in various ways during the project, we saw little evidence of knowledge-oriented activities. We discuss challenges and issues related to supporting greater knowledge orientation in collaborative student Internet projects.
Keywords--K-12 collaborative learning strategies, computer networks, World Wide Web.
As the Internet becomes a common feature in K-12 schools, teachers and researchers have begun to search for ways to take advantage of its potential for students. Innovative uses of the Internet have tended to fall into two general classes: its potential use as an information resource, and its use as a setting for collaboration between students. As an information resource, a key challenge is to get students to pursue the acquisition of knowledge as a goal rather than focusing on completing discrete tasks. As a collaborative medium, a key challenge is to help students work as a group, aware of and benefiting from the work of their peers, rather than as a collection of individuals coincidentally working on similar tasks. We have as our goal to combine these two benefits into a single type of learning, collaborative "knowledge-building" ( Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1996), where students work with the intention of adding to, examining, negotiating, testing, and improving group knowledge.
The University of Michigan Digital Library (UMDL) Teaching and Learning Project group has for several years been pursuing the goals of supporting knowledge-oriented activities -- activities that go beyond simple information-retrieval, where students can use the resources of the Internet to pursue interesting questions that require critical evaluation and synthesis of the information they find ( Bos, 1997; Wallace & Kupperman, 1997). However, students need to overcome many challenges before they are able to take advantage of the Internet as a tool for knowledge-building. The ability to use knowledge from diverse sources requires higher-order skills of evaluation and synthesis ( Brown & Day, 1983; Moore, 1995; Moore & St. George, 1991; Wineburg, 1991). In the culture of school, on the other hand, tasks tend to emphasize the individual completion of short-term, isolated assignments, and this gives students incentive to look for single, predigested information sources rather than multiple information sources in need of interpretation ( Brown & Day, 1983), thereby inhibiting real knowledge- building ( Scardamalia, Bereiter, & Lamon, 1994).
Computer networks also allow new opportunities for collaboration, which in turn can support knowledge-building ( Brown & Campione, 1994; Scardamalia et al., 1994). Following Teasley and Roschelle ( 1993), we define collaboration as mutual engagement toward a goal, rather than simply a division of labor among members of a group who complete their tasks individually. In order for students to truly collaborate, they should focus on solving a group problem, with some sense of the larger purposes and goals of the group. This also presents a key classroom challenge, in that the culture of school has tended to encourage students to focus only on their individual tasks. (See Table 1.)