Proceedings of CSCL '99

By International Conference on Computer Support for Collaborative Learning | Go to book overview

Beyond Access: Informed Participation and Empowerment

Ernesto G. Arias Center for LifeLong Learning & Design and Institute of Cognitive Science Department of Computer Science College of Architecture and Planning University of Colorado, Boulder

Hal Eden, Gerhard Fischer, Andrew Gorman, and Eric Scharff Center for LifeLong Learning & Design and Institute of Cognitive Science Department of Computer Science University of Colorado, Boulder

Abstract: This paper is based on the fundamental claim that one of the major roles of new media is not to deliver predigested information to individuals, but to provide the opportunity and resources for social debate and discussion. For most design problems (ranging from urban design to graphics design and software design) that we have studied over many years, the knowledge to understand, frame, and solve these problems does not exist, but is constructed and evolved during the process of solving them, exploiting the power of the "symmetry of ignorance" and "breakdowns." From this perspective, access to existing information and knowledge (often seen as the major advance of new media) is a very limiting concept. Many social and technological innovations are limited to provide primarily better access, leading to "consumer" cultures. Our approach focuses and creates support for lifelong learning activities grounded in informed participation and empowerment, allowing learners to incrementally acquire ownership in problems and contribute actively to their solution.

To illustrate our approach, we present the Envisionment and Discovery Collaboratory (EDC), an integrated physical and computational environment supporting informed participation through new forms of knowledge creation, integration, and dissemination. The EDC empowers users to act as designers in situated learning and collaborative problem-solving activities. It addresses the integration of the user's consumer and designer roles, not by translating them into an "either-or" type of support, but rather by providing users with the flexibility to move along this spectrum according to needs, opportunities, and personal interest and engagement in particular learning situations.

Keywords: integrated physical and computational spaces, shared knowledge, active participation, distributed cognition, participatory design, CSCL in community and informal settings


Introduction

Many social and technological innovations are focused upon providing better access to resources, leading to "consumer" mindsets ( Fischer, 1998a). Our approach creates and expands support for lifelong learning activities grounded in informed participation ( Brown et al., 1994) and empowerment ( Engelbart, 1995; Norman, 1993), allowing learners to incrementally acquire ownership in and to actively contribute to the resolution of problems ( An'as, 1996).

Cultures are substantially defined by their media and their tools for thinking, working, learning, and collaborating. A large number of the new media are designed to see humans only as consumers. Television is the most obvious medium that promotes this mindset and behavior ( Postman, 1985). Unfortunately, a consumer mindset does not remain limited to television, but in many cases extends to other activities and domains in our culture. For example, in our educational institutions learners are often treated as consumers of information and instruction, creating that mindset for the rest of their lives. As citizens they often feel left out in policy-making decisions, denying them opportunities to take an active role.

Unfortunately, most current computational environments do not allow users to act as active contributors and designers. Yet, computational media have the unique potential to assist people in becoming incrementally more actively involved. To move beyond "gift-wrapping" ( Fischer, 1996), we need to rethink our learning environments (for school, work, home, community) in ways that support learning and designing by facilitating the integration of the user's consumer and designer roles. This integration should provide users with the flexibility to move along the consumer-to-designer spectrum. This implies environments in which self-directed as well as peer-to-peer collaborative learning is supported;

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