Proceedings of CSCL '99

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

For the graduate seminar, the interface was configured to let students navigate to any perspective but to limit what they could do in most perspectives. Most knowledge construction operations were allowed only in one's personal perspective and new options were added to permit copying or linking notes back to one's personal perspective from the other perspectives. This made discussing someone else's note awkward, so simple discussion notes were later allowed everywhere. But then one could not edit even typos that one made in fluent discussion. There seemed to be no satisfactory solution to these detail design decisions short of rethinking the larger issues raised in this paper. The problem of designing classroom practices and matching them with software supports will be with us for the long haul.

Powerful KBEs are not just a fulcrum for leveraging practices that are more student-centered; ideally, they facilitate new classes of practices that would not be feasible without such computer support. Nevertheless, such technologies can also be adapted to reinforce traditional teacher-centered approaches. As Scardamalia & Bereiter ( Scardamalia & Bere iter , 1996) say, "Nobody wants to use technology to recreate education as it is, yet there is not much to distinguish what goes on in most computer-supported classrooms versus traditional classrooms" (p. 249). How can the use of KBEs be structured to provide students with a visionary model of collaborative learning? Such a model could prefigure a networked globe where individual competition is replaced by collaborative cognition, social division of manual and mental labor is superceded by equal intellectual access and private ownership of socially created ideas succumbs to unfettered sharing.


Conclusion

It has become a cliché that computer mediation has the potential to revolutionize communication just like the printing press did long ago. But the real lesson in this analogy is that widespread literacy involved slow changes in skills and practices to take advantage of the technological affordances. Culture and technology co-evolved dramatically; the transition from orality to literacy involved a radical change in how the world thinks and works ( Ong, 1998). Although social as well as technical changes can be propagated much faster now, it is still necessary to gradually evolve suitable mixes of practices and systems to support the move from predominantly individual, paper-based construction of knowledge to a new level of collaborative, Web-based cognition. This will involve the refinement of software support systems that are sophisticated, specialized and flexible, yet capable of becoming transparent in skilled practice. The design of such software will involve extended research into issues such as those raised in this paper.


Acknowledgments

The WEBGUIDE research has been a collaboration of the author with Rogerio dePaula and other L3D members, Ted

Figure 5. Two attempts to structure classroom practices. Left: in the middle school, students were only allowed to display their personal perspective or comparison perspectives for groups they belonged to. Right: in the graduate seminar, when students were not working in their personal perspective they were limited to adding simple discussion notes or copying information back into their personal perspective.

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