Situated Support for Learning: Storm’s Weekend with Rachael (Bruckman)

Bruckman, A. (2000). Situated support for learning: Storm’s weekend with Rachael. Journal of the Learning Sciences 9(3), 329-372.

The author makes a case for “situated support,” reminding designers and researchers that the context of support (i.e., the identity of the source of support and the connectedness of that support to other elements of the learning environment) is just as important as the content. The author illustrates this through an ethnographic analysis of a 12 yo girl’s learning experience on an educational MUD called MOOSE Crossing. This article also demonstrates how the Internet can provide social support to make constructionist environments (such as MOOSE Crossing) work in realistic settings.

Support for learning is more valuable when it is (p. 5):

  • From a source (either human or computational) with whom the learner has a positive personal relationship,
  • Ubiquitously available,
  • Richly connected to other sources of support, and
  • Richly connected to every-day activities.

*A good example of help/support that satisfies the last three points is HTML coding on the web.

*Important to remember that “written and computational artifacts that might serve as support for learning all ultimately have a human origin. If the identity of that human origin is known to the learner, then the learner’s relationship to the artifact is affected by the learner’s relationship to that author” (p. 7).

“Newman, Griffith and Cole comment that ‘when people with different goals, roles, and resources interact, the differences in interpretation provide occasions for the construction of new knowledge’ (Newman, Griffin et al. 1989). This approach to learning has dual roots in the work of Jean Piaget (Piaget 1929) and Lev Vygotsky (Vygotsky 1978). Getting guidance from another person is a complex process that exists in the context of networks of social relations. Donald Schön documents the subtleties of the relationship between masters and apprentices, with particular focus on professional education (Schön 1987). Schön pays careful attention to the unequal power relationships in apprenticeship situations. Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger also examine the relationships between masters and apprentices, with greater emphasis on new members of a community of practice being gradually introduced to a craft through the process of ‘legitimate peripheral participation’ (Lave and Wenger 1991). Collins, Brown and Newman refine the notion of traditional apprenticeship to one of ‘cognitive apprenticeship’ (Collins, Brown et al. 1989). In contrast, Aaron Falbel describes an unusual “free school” in Denmark, Friskolen 70, where the power relationships are more nearly equal” (p. 5-6).

Love this: “A ‘thick description’ allows us to distinguish the difference, in Geertz’s example, between a contraction of the eyelid and a ‘wink’—detailed knowledge of the context of the action allows one to move from factual observation to interpretation” (p. 9).

“Social science has in recent years increasingly rethought the issue of ethnographic authority. Henry Jenkins writes that ‘The newer ethnography offers accounts in which participation is as important as observation, the boundary between ethnographer and community dissolves, and community members may actively challenge the account offered of their experience’ (Jenkins 1992)” (p. 10).

MOOSE Crossing is a text-based virtual reality environment (or “MUD”) designed to be a constructionist learning environment for children (8-13 yos).

  • MOOSE Crossing is a text-based virtual reality environment or “MUD.”
  • “MUD” stands for “Multi-User Dungeon” (Bartle 1990).
  • The “world” of a MUD is a kind of database of objects. Each object has a name, a textual description, a location, and other properties.
  • The first MUDs, developed in the late 1970s, were networked multi-player dungeons and dragons games.
  • In 1989, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University named James Aspnes decided to see what would happen if he removed the monsters and the magic swords from the game, and instead allowed users to extend the virtual world. In allowing everyone extend the virtual world, Aspnes’ primary goal was to make the game more fun; however, in the process he created an unusual new kind of constructionist learning environment (Aspnes 1992).

“In Jocks and Burnouts: Social Categories and Identity in the High School, Penelope Eckert tells a compelling story of why some students may choose to embrace the goals set for them by adult authority, and others may reject those goals. While much research in the Piagetian tradition tends to assume that all subjugation of children to adult authority is undesirable (Falbel 1989), Eckert’s sociological work is more balanced: she notes that while the “burnouts” reject adult authority, the “jocks” thrive under it. She makes a compelling case that social class (of both students and teachers) is a major determiner of which children chose to embrace or reject goals set for them by authority figures. The picture to be painted here is a complex one, embracing many factors beyond the simple issue of the content of instruction” (p. 51).

The author feels that there are certain characteristics of MOOSE Crossing that made it particularly motivating for Rachael and Storm:

  • Richly social,
  • Connected to popular culture,
  • Open-ended, and
  • Rewarding of creativity and individuality.

“…Hard work and serious learning are not inconsistent with fun. We can strive to make learning, in Seymour Papert’s words, “hard fun” (Papert 1996). The social nature of CSCL environments makes them particularly well suited to realizing this vision” (p. 54).


8.1 Design Recommendations (p. 54-55)
In a 1996 Interactions article entitled “Pianos, Not Stereos: Creating Computational Construction Kits,” Mitchel Resnick, Fred Martin, and I noted the importance in the design of learning environments of creating connections:

The concept of learning-by-doing has been around for a long time. But the literature on the subject tends to describe specific activities and gives little attention to the general principles governing what kinds of “doing” are most conducive to learning. From our experiences, we have developed two general principles to guide the design of new construction kits and activities. These constructional-design principles involve two different types of “connections”:

  • Personal connections. Construction kits and activities should connect to users’ interests, passions, and experiences. The point is not simply to make the activities more “motivating” (though that, of course, is important). When activities involve objects and actions that are familiar, users can leverage their previous knowledge, connecting new ideas to their pre-existing intuitions.
  • Epistemological connections. Construction kits and activities should connect to important domains of knowledge—more significantly, encourage new ways of thinking (and even new ways of thinking about thinking). A well-designed construction kit makes certain ideas and ways of thinking particularly salient, so that users are likely to connect with those ideas in a very natural way, in the process of designing and creating. (Resnick, Bruckman, et al. 1996)
  • Situated support. Support for learning should be from a source (either human or computational) with whom the learner has a positive personal relationship, ubiquitously available, richly connected to other sources of support, and richly connected to every-day activities.



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