Proceedings of CSCL '97: The Second International Conference on Computer Support for Collaborative Learning, December 10-14, 1997, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

By Rogers Hall; Naomi Miyake et al. | Go to book overview

Students' Construction of Scientific Explanations in a Collaborative Hyper-Media Learning Environment

Jun Oshima Shizuoka Univ., Faculty of Education eijosim@ed.shizuoka.ac.jp


Abstract

This exploratory study examined how elementary school students make use of a collaborative hyper- media learning environment in constructing scientific explanations. The target environment was a computer-networked database system in which students externalize their thoughts in the form of texts or graphics, then elaborate their thoughts by structuring with links or by commenting. Thirty students in a 5th- and 6th- grade combined classroom participated in this study as part of their regular curriculum. The students studied "how heat affects matters." Contents of their discourse in the database were evaluated by two independent raters from the perspective of whether critical conceptual changes happened in the students' explanations, then the students were divided into High Conceptual Change (HCC) learners and Naive learners. Further, the same contents were evaluated by two other independent raters from the perspectives of (1) what types of explanations the students generated, and (2) how they applied their explanations across different problem contexts. Results showed that HCC learners generated more explanations and more frequently used their explanations across multiple contexts, particularly ones which they had studied before CSILE sessions. A further case analysis manifested critical differences in the movement in the problem space between a HCC and a Naive learner after generating a new type of explanations. The HCC learner used the type of explanations across contexts in which they had rich information, whereas the Naive learner did not. Thus, explanation-based exploration and progressive learning in knowledge-rich contexts were found to be crucial to deeper conceptual understanding.


1. Background and Problems

1.1. CSILE: A Collaborative Hyper-Media Learning Environment

This study examined a classroom community supported by CSILE (Computer-Supported Intentional Learning Environments). CSILE is a networked computer environment particularly designed to support progressive discourse ( Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1996). In CSILE, students write text or graphic notes to convey their explanations. These notes reside in a communal database where other participants have access to them, and can work collaboratively to compare explanations, find counterexamples, record new information bearing on these explanations, provide constructive commentary, and generally work to construct higher levels of understanding. The system supports students' active engagement with explanations by providing: (1) note types that encourage theory formulation and sustained inquiry regarding problems of understanding, and (2) database search mechanisms that support students in the creation of a collaborative community in which they read each others' notes and work to advance the ideas contained in them (Fig. 1).

The comparison between students in CSILE classrooms and students in traditional classrooms showed that CSILE students outperformed those in the traditional classrooms in comprehension of difficult texts and acquisition of basic skills (e.g., Scardamalia, Bereiter, Brett, Burtis, Calhoun, & Smith-Lea, 1992). However, mechanisms behind such achievements have not been sufficiently clarified. Oshima, Bereiter, and Scardamalia ( 1995) attempted to describe differences in learning activities between high- conceptual-progress learners and naive learners in CSILE by applying a framework of information- flow analysis ( Perkins, 1993). Results showed that high-conceptual-progress learners were more likely to integrate others' ideas or thoughts with their own ones in the "knowledge-transforming" way. They did not only read and comment on others' thoughts, but also applied their thoughts to solve their peers' problems and attempted to build new explanations. Further, the study showed that such progressive problem-solving would happen more effectively by introducing students a collaborative space called "discussion notes" in which they can explicitly share problems to pursue. Thus, the previous study suggested us that differences in students' dispositions to learning in CSILE have effects on how they proceed their learning.

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