Douglas R. Ward Esther L. Tiessen
MC2 Learning Systems Inc. Simon Fraser University
Zebu is an educational groupware technology which facilitates the use of standard WWW software to support collaborative project-based learning. This paper discusses the promise of Zebu in helping teachers and students overcome some technical and practical, educational problems inherent in WWW-based technologies, allowing them to more fully realise the potentials of the WWW as a technology for collaboration in education. Illustrations of the software are included to provide further detail of how the software addresses these problems.
Keywords--educational groupware, collaborative learning strategies, design and interface issues, tools to support teaching in collaborative settings, WWW
The WWW (World-Wide Web) has an enormous, yet largely untapped potential for supporting collaborative learning within and between schools. The original intent of the WWW was to support the constructive, collaborative work of academics and other knowledge workers ( Berners- Lee , Cailliau, Luotonen, Nielsen & Secret, 1994), yet in typical use, the WWW is found to be a rather passive communication medium. This orientation is unfortunate because it limits the everyday usefulness of the WWW for supporting collaborative educational activities. The bias toward non-constructive activities with WWW technologies can be explained in part by the nature of the tools which are commonly available for working with the WWW as a medium of communication--browsers are more common and simpler to use than editors. It has been a major goal of the ALiVE! Project (Active Learning in Virtual Environments) to design and build tools which make it easily possible to turn the WWW into a constructive medium which can be used by teachers and students to engage in collaborative project-based learning activities ( Tiessen, 1996; Ward, 1996; Ward & Tiessen, 1997).
Collaborative project-based learning is an instructional approach that attempts to engage students in the intentional pursuit of their own learning goals and in social interactions aimed toward the development of understanding. This approach draws from a variety of educational theories and instructional practices including collaborative learning ( Brown, 1990; Kaye, 1992), active learning ( Bork, 1992; Rakes, 1996), intentional learning ( Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1985; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1993; Scardamalia, Bereiter, McLean, Swallow & Woodruff, 1989), distributed expertise ( Brown, 1994; Brownet al., 1993), resource-based learning ( Brown & Smith, 1996; Lisewski & Settle, 1996; Race, 1996; Rakes, 1996; Taylor & Laurillard, 1995, and project-based instruction ( Honebein, Duffy & Fishman, 1993). In this approach, student research is a primary activity, and considerable effort is directed toward finding, collecting, and organizing information from various sources ( Taylor & Laurillard, 1995). Students add intellectual value to existing information as they construct and manipulate representations of their own knowledge in pursuit of their learning goals. Teachers provide scaffolding to support and constrain students activities to those which are likely to be educationally profitable. Students share information, and communicate to coordinate activities and to collaborate in building communal knowledge products, as they take individual and group responsibilities in their projects. For the WWW to be a medium which directly supports these educationally desirable characteristics, new software tools are needed.