Promoting reflective interactions in a CSCL environment

M. Baker, K. Lund
1997 Journal of Computer Assisted Learning  
Engaging in reflective activities in interaction, such as explaining, justifying and evaluating problem solutions, has been shown to be potentially productive for learning. This paper addresses the problem of how these activities may be promoted in the context of computer-mediated communication during a modelling task in physics. The design principles of two different communication interfaces are presented. The first allows free text to be exchanged, and the second structures the interaction by
more » ... providing a restricted set of communicative possibilities. Comparative analyses of interaction corpora produced with the two communication interfaces are then described. The analyses show that use of the second structured interface in performing the problem-solving task is feasible for students, and that it promotes a task-focussed and reflective interaction. In conclusion the different resources provided by different media and the relative degrees of effort that their use requires are discussed. ). A common factor of many such types of interactions is that they involve metacognitive processes such as mutual regulation and reflection on the foundations or understanding of the problemsolving activity (Brown, 1987) . The design of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) environments -especially those where students work and communicate at a distance via a network -offers specific advantages for research on the cognitive effects of interactions. When students collaborate side-by-side at a computer, the usual approach is to study the verbal interactions that turn out to be produced under certain conditions and to attempt to relate features of them to possible learning effects. In the case of CSCL environments, there is the possibility of controlling or structuring the computer-mediated interaction itself, in the attempt to favour the incidence of certain forms of communicative acts rather than others. The latter approach is the one that has been adopted in the research described here. The extent to which reflective interactions -those that involve explanation, justification and evaluation -are promoted by two different communication interfaces, used within the same CSCL environment, were examined. The first interface (dialogue-box) allows free typewritten text to be exchanged between learners, whilst managing interaction control; the second (structured) promotes an interaction of a certain form using interface buttons for specific communicative acts. The CSCL environment is called C-CHENE * and is designed to support qualitative modelling of energy in physics. This paper describes first the general approach to structuring interactions in a CSCL environment, then the environment itself, together with the two communication interfaces with which it may be used. This is then followed by comparative analyses of interaction corpora generated with the two interfaces with a view to identifying to what extent reflective interaction is promoted. The conclusion discusses further work on interaction design in CSCL environments. * CHENE = CHaîne ENErgétique = Energy Chain; C-CHENE = Collaborative CHENE 177 177
doi:10.1046/j.1365-2729.1997.00019.x fatcat:in35hro3ozbmfmzpv32xlzfpku