Proceedings of CSCL '99

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

CSCL as a Catalyst for Changing Teacher Practice

Paul Resta, Mark Christal, Karen Ferneding, Adrienne Kennedy Puthoff

Learning Technology Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Abstract: This paper presents results of a study of middle school teachers using a prototype Macintosh version of CSILE to help create a knowledge-building community. The study, involving middle schools in two school districts in the Southwest United States, provided teachers with training and technical support in the use of the CSILE over a period of one semester.

In-depth interviews were conducted with the teacher participants a year after the termination of the project to understand their experiences and to learn their stories of the impact of the Knowledge-Building Community Project on their teaching practices. Five major themes emerged from the analysis of the interview transcription data. This paper presents a summary of the teacher reflections and stories related to the emergent theme of how the knowledge-building community changed their teaching practices, roles, the structure of their classroom discourse, and their views of curriculum. The results of the study suggest that CSILE, accompanied by appropriate support, can serve as a catalyst in changing teacher practices from didactic teaching to more constructivist approaches to learning. The paper presents teacher reflections on changes in their roles, views of curriculum and classroom discourse as a result of the knowledge-building community project.

Keywords: shared knowledge, constructivism, curriculum


Introduction

The goal of the study was to understand the experience of middle school teachers related to the long term impact of a knowledge-building community project on their teaching practices. The concept of knowledge-building community guiding the project was based on the work of Scardamalia and Bereiter. They describe knowledge building communities as schools in which people are engaged in producing knowledge objects that lend themselves to be discussed and tested and in which students see their main job as producing and improving such objects ( Scardamalia and Bereiter, 1994). Such a vision represents a significant departure from the traditional views of the schooling process and roles of teachers and students but is congruent with other emerging ideas for restructuring schools, such as Brown and Campi one 's ( 1990) proposal that schools serve as communities of learners and thinkers. It also represents a departure from typical efforts to institute change in schools.

As noted by Sarason ( 1996), most attempts at reforming education are fundamentally flawed, as they do not attempt to change the structure of discourse within the classroom setting. The typical structure of discourse in classrooms may be portrayed as the teacher standing in the center of the dialogue, such that s/he acts as the conduit for nearly all of the verbal exchanges that take place. Doyle ( 1986) notes that most oral discourse that takes place in classrooms may be characterized as recitation. Heap ( 1985) indicates that classroom dialogue typically is comprised of three step units consisting of the following dialogic interactions: teacher initiates, student responds, teacher evaluates. These practices stem from common sense notions about schools and what Tyack and Tobin ( 1993) term the "grammar of schools."

Because knowledge-building communities demand such dramatic shifts in mind-set and teacher practices, they stand contrary to the common sense notions about schools-- what Tyack and Tobin ( 1993) call the "grammar of schools." Consequently, as noted by Kolander and Guzdial (1996), it was recognized that the views of "traditional schooling" would represent a significant challenge to the adoption of a technology supported knowledge-building community. A joint university/public school partnership was formed to plan and implement the knowledge-building community in the four participating middle schools. The goal of the Knowledge-Building Community projects was to develop a knowledge-building community in the classroom and to determine the perceived impact of the collaborative technologies and support on teacher practices and the structure of discourse in the classroom.


Description of Knowledge-Building Community Project

The Knowledge-Building Community project provided for the infusion of an Apple version of CSILE called MacCSILE (later called Co-Learning) from one of the initial pilot districts (five teachers at two middle schools in a suburban district) to another public school district (four teachers at two middle schools in an adjacent urban school district. MacCSILE is based on established cognitive learning strategies ( Scardamalia, et al., 1987). Translating the cognitive science guidelines into features of CSILE software has resulted in different implementations since CSILE was first introduced in an urban elementary school in Toronto, Ontario in 1987, but several core features have endured.

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