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Reflections on CSCL 99

by:     Jochen F. Rick
to:     Prof. Janet L. Kolodner
class:  Foundations of Educational Technology
date:   17 December 99
This is a review of the team project cwCW. Due to my spending the last couple of days at the CSCL conference, I will try to reflect with that as my basis.

In the presentation of Activity Centered Design: Towards a Theoretical Framework for CSCL, I heard Bernard Gifford (UC Berkeley) point out the faults of learner centered design; while I didn't agree with many of his claims (both of what LCD is and whether certain traits are faults), I did pick up his major criticism that LCD neglects the teacher's role. It can be argued that LCD is simply a design methodology for software and so the software should focus on the learner. But, if I look back on my reading, I see that LCD is basically a software design methodology to further inquiry-based learning, which is based in an environment.

In the opening keynote, Barbara Rogoff (UC Santa Cruz) argued for considering all elements of the system while focusing on a certain element. As such, a good software design methodology should keep a focus on the learner, but also consider the environment (curriculum, classroom, community, etc.).

This brings up the question of what is the teacher's role (particularly in research)? In an interactive session on Educator-Researcher Conversation on Technology-Enabled Teacher Professional Development, Sherry Hsi (UC Berkeley) gave a good progression about the teacher/researcher relationship. Her first iteration was the idea of the researcher creating a curriculum/technology package and giving that to an expert teacher to use; out of this, the researcher gets to publish papers and the teacher gets new technology and perhaps a curriculum. Her third evolution was the researcher joining the teacher as part of the curriculum; the teacher becomes part of the experiment as something to be observed and evaluated. Her fifth and final iteration was of the researcher and teacher working in tandem to improve the curriculum and learning.

In cwCW, we basically took the first methodology. We came up with a curriculum (product) for someone to use and we would watch from a distance to see how it works. In part, we did this because we wanted a practical example (artifact) to demonstrate. In our evaluation section, we progressed more towards the third iteration; we acknowledged the teacher's role, but saw the relationship as being activated by us through interviews. I think the last iteration is optimal; if we were to go back and restart the project, we should make that part of our focus. Instead of coming up with a LCD, we should have come up with a research and learning-centered design. Our focus would shift from 'what are the learner's need and how can we best provide that' to 'given our setting of a classroom, how can we work together with the teacher to best address the needs of the learner'. To add a practical edge, we should focus on 'given the setting of the classroom, timeframe, man power, and the technology possibilities we start off with, how can we best address the learner, teacher, and curriculum's needs'.

If we had set up our group design with a fifth-iteration research methodology in mind, we would be closer to being able to realize this in reality. As it is, it is something that is hard to get a teacher to accept, because it might not address their concerns. Clearly learning is an important focus, but so is adoption. In the Snake Oil or Elixer interactive session, many of the researchers vented their frustration that the effect of the CSCL community on American education is not very large. Yes, one third of all schools have used Logo, but how many use them in good ways; I can definitely say that my school used in ineffectively. Some faulted academia, because we are in the business of research, not in the business of changing the education system. Thus, once we have shown something of research value, we publish and are done. We (as researchers) are not the ones who put it out there on a more massive scale. While there are a few people and companies bringing these technologies and reforms, many of them focus on distance education and not reforming the current system. I am still skeptical of distance education working for K-12, so I don't think enough is being done for the public school system.

Several groups (Michigan, your group, etc.) are aiming for curricular reform, but they are still phrased as research questions. When is the point when we can get past those research questions and actually put it out there? To use the analogy to software design, when do we get out of beta mode and hand it to the marketing department?

If getting it out there is a goal we would like to achieve, then perhaps it needs to be a goal of education research too. In most areas of computer science, the research knowledge is picked up by private companies which bring it to the general populace. In our field, the largest potential consumer is the public education system. There is a fairly fundamental difference to how something works in the public versus the private sector; perhaps, we need to adjust our goals to include adoption to deal with this difference. Also, this change would have to be academically viable–accepted by other type of researchers as viable; this would require a paradigm shift. Douglas Engelbart (Bootstrap Institute) criticized academic review for not allowing for new paradigms. If adoption is a goal we want, we should look to change the academic paradigm for educational technology.

PSBolot pointed out that these last couple of paragraphs don't have much to do with my thoughts on changing the project design. But, I still thought them important in a larger context.