Groupware Goes to School (Stahl)

Stahl, G. (2002). Groupware goes to school. Lecture Notes in Computer Science, 7–24.

The author describes a computer-supported collaborative learning application called Synergeia), a groupware software program that was extended to support collaborative learning in a classroom environment. In addition, Synergeia facilitates knowledge building, perspective intertwining, knowledge negotiation, portfolio sharing and knowledge artifacts.

“We need a vision of how networked computers can facilitate the discussion of all with all that does not require the coordination of a manager or teacher and the collaborative building of knowledge that is not restricted to the skills, memories and efforts of individuals” (p.7). [This is still a problem and a much needed vision today. Some partial success stories: wikis, google docs, google wave…]

CSCW: computer support for cooperative work. Concerned with the world of work, where people must accomplish commercially productive tasks.

CSCL: computer support for collaborative learning. Concerned with the world of schooling, where students must learn basic skills that will in the end allow them to function effectively in the world of work.

“Whereas CSCW supports the sharing and archiving of knowledge that is contributed by cooperating individuals, CSCL supports the functioning of a collaborative group so as to build knowledge that is the shared creation and property of the group” (p.12)

Notes can be sorted by thinking type:

  • student has to decide what part of the inquiry-based learning they are contributing to: problem statement, working theory proposal, knowledge deepening, meta-commenting, etc.
  • other categories could relate to brainstorming, debate, design rationale, etc.
  • indicates which parts of the knowledge building process have or have not been emphasized so far.
  • possible to have different sets of thinking types for different approaches to knowledge building
  • [Great feature that I had not expected, nor read about in other CSCL articles. Interesting way of making thinking more visible; of cluing students into successful metacognitive processes; encouraging reflective thinking. However, a part of me wonders if too much of this sort of structuring also constrains the student’s journey of knowledge building and expertise? Perhaps better if later on, the student could decide what the categories should be (i.e., scaffold fades away). Ed media needs to be wary of falling back into direct instructional design.]

Assumed that students can find necessary information on Internet or in the form of documents uploaded to the system. Rather, what CSCL needs to support is:

  • the collaborative reflection on this information (sharing and annotating)
  • the building of group knowledge (discussion from perspectives)
  • the determination of what is to count as produced knowledge artifacts (knowledge negotiation)

Also, Stahl wanted to “go beyond the management of established knowledge to the creation of knowledge that is innovative within a learning community that develops, defines, sanctions and shares its knowledge” (p.9)

Knowledge building is the intertwining of personal and group perspectives. “All knowledge involves interpretation from specific perspectives. In collaboration, personal interpretations of what is said in group discourse interact to form shared understandings” (p.14).

“The basic structure of learning places follows the normal structure of schools, with students in projects within courses.” [So does such a product serve to reinforce the culture of schools? Is it possible to design a learning environment that subverts or counteracts that influence? Perhaps teachable agents…?]

Other general questions: How important is it for students to understand how a software is structured (and why) before using it? Is there any research on collaborative software and optimal user number (for a project within the software or on the whole)?


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