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Computer-supported collaborative learning often means that locally distant learners discuss a task via text-based discussion boards or videoconferencing. Collaborative learning, however, is often suboptimal with respect to how learners work on the concepts that are supposed to be learned and how learners interact with each other. Collaborative learning environments may be improved by scripts that structure epistemic activities and social interactions of learners. Two studies are being reported that investigated the effects of epistemic and social scripts in a text-based and a videoconferencing computer supported learning environment. In each study the factors "epistemic script" and "social script" have been independently varied in a 2×2-factorial design. 182 university students of Educational Science participated in the two studies. Results show that social scripts can be substantially beneficial with respect to knowledge acquisition, whereas epistemic scripts apparently do not to lead to the expected effects or even hinder learning.
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EARLI SIM 2004 in Tuebingen
Abstract. Computer-supported collaborative learning often means that locally distant learners discuss a
task via text-based discussion boards or videoconferencing. Collaborative learning, however, is often sub-
optimal with respect to how learners work on the concepts that are supposed to be learned and how
learners interact with each other. Collaborative learning environments may be improved by scripts that
structure epistemic activities and social interactions of learners. Two studies are being reported that
investigated the effects of epistemic and social scripts in a text-based and a videoconferencing computer-
supported learning environment. In each study the factors "epistemic script" and "social script" have been
independently varied in a 2×2-factorial design. 182 university students of Educational Science
participated in the two studies. Results show that social scripts can be substantially beneficial with respect
to knowledge acquisition, whereas epistemic scripts apparently do not to lead to the expected effects or
even hinder learning.
Collaborative learning builds on the idea that all learners of a group elaborate
learning material together without direct or immediate intervention of the teacher
(Cohen, 1994). For instance, learners may contribute and discuss divergent
perspectives upon a theory that is supposed to be learned or discuss problem cases
together. The collaborative learners may acquire knowledge as a consequence of
being exposed to various perspectives and the need to refine or restructure their own
point of view (Webb & Farivar, 1999). Individual group members contribute to joint
task solutions, which in turn may change knowledge leading to modified
contributions of individual learners (Salomon & Perkins, 1998). At least two
dimensions of collaborative learning need to be analyzed: epistemic activity and
social mode of co-construction (Fischer, Bruhn, Gräsel, & Mandl, 2002). Epistemic
activities describe how learners deal with the knowledge construction task, e.g., how
they categorize or define new concepts with the goal to (re-)construct knowledge.
Learners verbalizing their ideas on how to solve the task may re-structure their
knowledge and refer to specific new concepts in order to produce more detailed
solutions (Webb, Jonathan, Fall, & Fall, 1995). The social mode of co-construction
indicates how learners interact with each other, e.g., how they relate their
contributions to contributions of their learning partners in performing the epistemic
activities. Learners may, for instance, ask each other questions or critically negotiate
deviating perspectives and become aware of contradictions within their individual
understanding. Learners may resolve contradictions which arise in discourse by
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Author manuscript, published in "first joint meeting of the EARLI SIGs Instructional Design and Learning and Instruction with
Computers., Germany (2004)"
constructing new knowledge (Piaget, 1932/1965; Nastasi & Clement, 1992). Studies
to date point out that specific epistemic activities and social interactions are
predictive to outcomes of collaborative learning (Cohen, 1994; Fischer et al., 2002;
Teasley, 1997).
There are indications, however, that normally, learners do not spontaneously
engage in productive epistemic activities and social interactions and consequently,
fail to achieve the desired learning outcome (e.g., Cohen, 1994; Mandl, Gruber, &
Renkl, 1996). Recent approaches have therefore aimed to facilitate these epistemic
activities and social interactions (Ertl, 2003; Weinberger, 2003).2. Theoretical
Facilitating collaborative learning can be approached in numerous ways.
Whereas some approaches, e.g., moderation of collaborative processes, may require
complex skills and highly depend on the quality of the individual facilitator, scripts
have been regarded as a qualitatively consistent possibility to facilitate collaborative
learning activities (O’Donnell, 1999). Scripts are activity programs that aim to
facilitate collaborative learning by specifying activities in collaborative settings,
sequencing these activities and assigning the activities to individual learners.
Scripts may aim to support specific epistemic and social collaborative learning
activities that have proven to be positively related to learning outcome in the
respective collaborative tasks. Epistemic scripts, for instance, can guide the attention
of learners towards specific aspects of the task and towards specific task-oriented
activities while collaboratively discussing and constructing knowledge. Social
scripts can specify and sequence interactions of learners, such as eliciting
information from each other by asking critical questions. It is unclear, however,
what the different contributions of epistemic and social components of scripts to
facilitating collaborative learning really are, because thus far epistemic and social
script components have not been systematically compared.
In the context of computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL), scripts can
have different characteristics altogether depending on the type of computer
application, which mediates the communication of learners (e.g., e-mail, chat, and
videoconferencing). This variety of applications complicates theoretical foundation,
systematic research, and design of educational support in the context of CSCL. In
the following sections we will present two empirical studies on epistemic and social
scripts implemented by prompts into CSCL environments. We analyze the effects of
epistemic and social scripts in CSCL environments that are based on two different
media types (web-based discussion boards and videoconferencing technologies).
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We arranged and investigated two different CSCL environments with epistemic
and social scripts: (1) a problem-oriented peer discussion environment based on
discussion boards (Weinberger, Fischer, & Mandl, 2003) and (2) a
videoconferencing-based peer-tutoring environment (Reiserer, Ertl & Mandl, 2002).
In both of these studies we focused on the question, to what extent epistemic and
social scripts affect the individual knowledge acquisition of collaborative learning.
The research question of the studies was: What are the effects of an epistemic script
and a social script and their combination on the individual acquisition of knowledge
as the outcome of collaborative learning in the computer-supported learning
environments? We expected that both scripts would enhance individual knowledge
acquisition in comparison with an unscripted CSCL environment. However, the
interaction of both epistemic and social scripts would lead to the best learning
outcomes, fostering a discourse of productive interactions on a high quality level as
regards the contents.
3.1. Study 1: Scripts in Problem-Oriented Collaborative Learning Environments
with Web-Based Discussion Boards
Text-based computer-mediated communication in web-based discussion boards
enables new, asynchronous collaborative learning scenarios, in which learners are
supposed to engage in more active, reflective, and socially supported knowledge
construction (Clark, Weinberger, Jucks, Spitulnik, & Wallace, 2003; Scardamalia &
Bereiter, 1996). Students rarely, however, make use of that potential. Ninety-six
students in their first semester of Educational Science at the University of Munich
participated in this study. The students participated in an online learning session
about attribution theory (Weiner, 1985), a standard part of the curriculum, in a text-
based online learning environment with an integrated discussion board as
communication tool. Participation was required for receiving course credit at the end
of the semester. Students were invited individually – each student to one of three
different laboratory rooms. Each group was randomly assigned to one of the four
experimental conditions in a 2×2-factorial design. Learning partners did not know
each other before the experimental session. We varied the factors “epistemic script“
(with vs. without) and “social script“ (with vs. without). We measured individual
knowledge acquisition based on a propositional analysis of written problem case
solution of the learners.
Learning Environment of Study 1. Students in all conditions had to work together
in applying theoretical concepts to three case problems that were presented as a text
in the specifically designed online learning environment, and jointly prepare an ana-
lysis for each case by communicating via web-based discussion boards that were
integrated in the online learning environment (see figure 1). They were asked to
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discuss the three cases using the attribution theory and to jointly compose at least
one final analysis for each case.
All groups collaborated in three web-based discussion boards – one for each
case. The bulletin boards provided a main page with an overview of all message
headers. In this overview, answers to original messages appeared in outline form.
The learners could read the full text of all messages, reply to the messages, or
compose and post new messages. In the replies, the original messages were quoted
out with “>” as in standard newsreaders and e-mail programs.
Figure 1. The CSCL environment of study 1 with a web-based discussion board.
Results of Study 1. The post-test analysis shows two main effects of both types of
scripts on individual acquisition of knowledge. First of all, ANOVA revealed a large
negative effect of the epistemic script. The means of both of the epistemic-script
conditions are remarkably lower than the mean of the control condition. Second,
there was a medium-sized positive effect of the social script. The learners in the
combined scripts condition learned even less than the learners in the control
condition. An interaction effect, however, could not be found. These results indicate
that the individual acquisition of knowledge could be facilitated with the social
script, whereas the epistemic script led to lower gains than the control group. Both
Task information and
Learning environment
orientation map
Case information
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script components did not interact. Thus the results were only partially coherent with
our assumption with respect to the negative contribution of the epistemic script.
3.2. Study 2: Scripts in a Videoconferencing Environment
In the second study, we investigated effects of scripts in a videoconferencing-
based peer teaching environment. Videoconferencing enables synchronous forms of
collaborative distance learning, which are required when learners need to interact at
high frequency. Eighty-six students in their first semester of Educational Sciences at
the Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich took part in this experiment. The
students participated in an online learning session within the videoconferencing-
based peer teaching environment about the theory of genotype environment effects
(Scarr & McCartney, 1983), a standard part of the curriculum of Educational
Sciences in Munich. Dyads were set up and randomly assigned to one of four
conditions in a 2×2-factorial design. We varied the factors “epistemic script“(with
vs. without) and “social script“(with vs. without). After the learning session the
individual knowledge acquisition was assessed with a combination of a short open
answer and a multiple-choice test.
Learning Environment of Study 2. An online learning environment based on a
desktop videoconferencing system including audio and video connections and a
shared text editor to support the dyads’ knowledge construction allowed participants
to verbally communicate and jointly create text material at the same time (see figure
Figure 2. The experimental setup of the videoconferencing setting of study 2 with a learning
group of two participants in separate rooms.
The shared application was accomplished with Microsoft Netmeeting 3.01. As
text editor we applied MS-Word 2000, an application that we expected to be well
known among our participants and therefore easy to handle. This setting enabled the
learners to alternately type or edit notes in the text-editor.
Results of Study 2. Concerning learning outcome in study 2, a 2×2-factorial
ANOVA was used for analyzing learners’ post-test scores. The social script
produced a medium-sized positive, but statistically marginal effect. Learners
supported by the epistemic script did not differ substantially with respect to
Laboratory room 2
Laboratory room 1
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individual knowledge acquisition from learners without the epistemic script. The
two scripts did not interact with respect to the post-test scores.
The results of the two studies indicate that unsupported collaborative online
learning may result in bad performance (Cohen, 1994), but scripts may facilitate the
individual acquisition of knowledge. In particular, it was found that in both CSCL
environments the social scripts were able to enhance the individual acquisition of
knowledge, as was hypothesized. We assume that social scripts may support
interactions, which in turn facilitate individual knowledge acquisition (Weinberger
et al., 2003). Thus, social scripts may enable learners to actually exploit the
aforementioned advantages of collaborative learning and support the elaboration and
refinement of individual knowledge in social situations (O’Donnell, 1999; Teasley,
1997). Whereas collaborative learners without support from a social script often
build a minimal consensus in order to hastily complete collaborative tasks, social
scripts may motivate learners to inquire about the contributions of the learning
partners more critically and thereby acquire more knowledge individually than
learners without additional support.
In contrast, the epistemic scripts of both studies did not show the expected
outcomes. In study 1 the epistemic script actually hampered the individual
acquisition of knowledge in comparison to the other experimental groups. As a
consequence, epistemic scripts may not be generally recommendable for facilitating
collaborative learning. Epistemic support can make specific aspects of the learning
task salient and suggest specific knowledge-building activities (Ertl, 2003; Fischer et
al., 2002; Reiserer et al., 2002). Therefore, it is of utter importance, to take note of
the aspects of collaborative tasks at which epistemic scripts aim, which epistemic
activities are suggested by the scripts and the extent to which learners are supported
by the scripts to elaborate the learning material. In order to improve epistemic
scripts, we need to investigate what specific epistemic activities should be fostered
that are related to elaboration of learning material and with what kind of script
design this may be achieved in various computer-supported learning environments.
Authors’ affiliation:
Armin Weinberger, Knowledge Media Research Center, Tuebingen
Bernhard Ertl, Ludwig-Maximillians-University, Munich
Frank Fischer, Knowledge Media Research Center, Tuebingen
Heinz Mandl, Ludwig-Maximillians-University, Munich
The studies have been funded by the DFG.
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... (7) In order to assess what students learned from the exploratory exercise, they then took a post-test (15 minutes). (8) In the Pairs conditions only, the students then took the questionnaire. ...
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This study identified student behaviors that best predicted mathematics learning in peer-directed small groups among students who needed help. Two behaviors were hypothesized to predict achievement: receiving explanations instead of only the right answer and subsequently carrying out constructive activity (solving or explaining how to solve problems using concepts stated or implied in the explanations received). Six classes of 7th graders participated in 2 sequential instructional units. Students in 4 classes worked in heterogeneous small groups throughout a 3-wk unit on operations with decimal numbers (Unit 1); students in all 6 classes worked in groups throughout a 4-wk unit on operations with fractions (Unit 2). Analyses of the transcripts of tape recordings of students' verbal interaction confirmed the hypotheses. Level of constructive activity was the strongest predictor of achievement. The level of help that students received predicted level of constructive activity but did not predict achievement directly. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)
Using data from two studies of scientific reasoning, this chapter explores whether transactive discussion is the basis of productive peer collaborations and questions what role the partner plays in the apparent effectiveness of this type of discussion. In the first study, dyads who engaged in transactive discussion showed more improvement than dyads who did not have transactive discussions. In the second study, both dyads and children working alone showed improvement related to talk in general. However, dyads produced more transactive types of talk and showed a more complex understanding of the problem that they generated more quickly. Having a partner was not a necessary or sufficient condition for producing transactive talk but increased likelihood that it would occur. The data from these studies suggest that the value of peer collaborations may be that the presence of a partner provides a natural context for elaborating one’s own reasoning.
We examined group differences in social-cognitive behaviors exhibited by 48 3rd graders in Logo or computer-based writing environments and the role of these behaviors in accounting for posttreatment differences in higher-order thinking. Logo children exhibited more work-related and off-task behavior, information seeking from partner and cognitively-based resolution of cognitive conflicts and less typing and social negotiation of cognitive conflict. Support was provided for the mediational role of information seeking, social negotiation of social conflict and especially cognitively-based resolution of cognitive conflict. Thus, Logo may foster cognitive growth by engendering cognitively-based resolution of cognitive conflicts.
This paper offers a synthesis of research on cooperative learning in small groups. The main challenge for teachers who utilize cooperative learning is to stimulate the type of interaction desired according to their teaching objective. A generalization regarding student interactions is that if students are not taught differently, they will tend to operate at the most concrete level. Student participation in a task group that is structured to foster resource- or goal-interdependence appears to increase student motivation and performance. The effectiveness of the group structure depends on the task's complexity and uncertainty and on the extent to which the instructions attempt to micromanage the interaction process. Information is also offered on ensuring equity in interaction, managing the interaction, and unsettled issues, such as special curricula and assessment. Successful implementation of cooperative learning also requires staff development and principals who demonstrate effective managerial skills and instructional leadership. (LMI)
Explores the link between helping behavior and learning in students participating in small groups and the effects of a cooperative learning program, designed to increase students' ability to work in small groups, on student behavior. Four groups of 184 7th grade mathematics students were observed over the course of a cooperative learning program. Special attention was on the explanations that students working in the cooperative groups gave each other, the activity that students engaged in after they received help, and the relations between these kinds of peer interactions and learning. The results of this study confirmed 2 major conditions that need to be met for help that students receive to be effective: (1) the help received must be elaborated explanations and (2) the student receiving the help must actively use the explanation to try to solve problems for himself or herself. Implications of the findings for classroom practice, research, and theory are discussed. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2012 APA, all rights reserved)