Lars Kobbe, TEL researcher at KMRC, throws light on what scripting collaborative interaction is, and the value of working in a pan-European research team funded by Kaleidoscope
"Working in a multidisciplinary team helps to better understand learning and how to support learning.Research on learning requires multiple and complimentary perspectives, because there’s typically at least two sides to everything. For instance, psychologists tend to look at students only, because learning takes place in the students mind. Nevertheless, the students’ learning activity is orchestrated and supported by a teacher, who – as educational scientists emphasize – is taking an invaluable role within the classroom. When we design scripts to support learners, we also need to take into account the role of the teacher. That’s what I learned as a psychologist from working with educational scientists in our team.”
There’s also two sides to scripting collaborative interaction: On the one hand, you can focus on the general composition of interaction. In this top-down approach, you would begin with designing a sound motivational structure for collaboration and deciding on how to distribute the task in an appropriate way. On the other hand, you can focus on what specific activities you want the learners to engage in and build the script from there. In this bottom-up approach, you would begin with identifying the activities that are central to the task at hand, structure them in an appropriate sequence and design scaffolds that help learners engage perform these activities in the most effective way.
Furthermore, you can distinguish between benefit- and deficit-oriented approaches. Benefit-oriented scripts emphasize the activities that students neglect or rarely engage in (e.g. generating sound arguments, asking critical questions), whereas deficit-oriented scripts attempt to reduce likely problems in collaborative learning scenarios, such as social loafing, overhasty consensus-building or disregarding alternative ideas. Ideally, scripts should incorporate both approaches."
Why should policy makers know about this research?
"Research in collaborative learning has shown that the opportunity for learning is greatly diminished by the poor quality of interaction typically seen when learners are left to their own devices. Our approach in raising the quality of discourse in collaborative learning is to structure interaction according to sound empirical findings in educational psychology. Collaboration scripts provide an above-the-norm model of how discourse in collaborative learning should look like. Embedded in software such as discussion boards, scripts prescribe a meaningful course of action in which learners are for instance provided with individual roles and specific learning activities such as creating thoughtful questions or raising critical arguments."
Lars explains why his resarch is important to the public at large
"It is well-accepted theory that students benefit from another when they learn collaboratively. In practice, however, we find that this is rarely true for all students. Not all students contribute equally, and some of them engage in rather unproductive or even disturbing behavior. The problem is that when students are assigned to small groups in school they are typically just provided with a clear task to work on but without any guidance on how to get the group to work well together. And that’s what collaboration scripts aim for: They make clear who is supposed to what in which sequence, resulting in a much more productive discourse taking place."
What has Kaleidoscope given you and your research Lars?
"Working with a team from Finland (University of Jyväskylä), Switzerland (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), and Germany (University of Duisberg, Essen) taught us different perspectives, coming from different scientific directions. We just wouldn’t be able to realize our goal of formalizing computer-supported collaboration scripts without this great opportunity to work with experts from different fields."
What should happen after Kaleidoscope?
"For the future, we envision a scriptable discussion board – discussion boards currently available don’t allow you to structure the interaction, e.g. you cannot assign and rotate roles. This discussion board would be freely available, so researchers everywhere could use it to capture data for their research project. Also, teachers could select a previously designed script and use it for part of their classroom lessons, or create new scripts based on templates."