Technological artifacts such as computers and mobile electronic devices have dramatically increased our learning interactions with machines. Coupled with the increasingly different forms of collaborative learning situations, our contemporary learning environments have become more complex and interconnected in today’s information age. How do we understand the learning and collaborative processes in such environments? How do members receive, analyze, synthesize, and propagate information in crowded systems? How do we investigate the collaborative processes in an increasingly sophisticated learning environment? What is collaboration in the current technological age? This chapter, using the conceptual framework of distributed and social cognition, will seek to answer these questions. It will describe the current perspectives on social and distributed cognition in the context of learning, and examine how these theories can inform the processes of collaborative learning with computers. The chapter will conclude with implications to our learning environments today.
What Are Learning Environments Like Today?
The continuing emergence of more sophisticated technology is radically challenging and changing the way students think and learn. The reliance on increasingly powerful computational artifacts has made technology ubiquitous in most classrooms and student life. This sophistication has also been taken to higher levels with the increasing availability of all types of digital information and the myriad of networked and integrated infrastructures. Our Internet and information age has given us tools and resources for engaging in learning that we never had before.
Take any typical learning situation in developed countries. In classrooms or outside schools, you will invariably see students using handheld electronic devices to enter data or check information. They can text message, surf the Internet and “google” what the teacher is saying in class. In study rooms, cafeteria, or homes, students engaging in learning will be seen using cell phones, laptops and other electronic devices. An example of today’s (and tomorrow’s) learning environments is the Technology Enabled Active Learning (TEAL) project at MIT (Dori, Belcher, Bessette, Danziger, McKinney, & Hult, 2003), where a studio-based learning session takes place with students engaging in and solving projects. The classroom scene is full of students discussing in groups, consulting their computer laptops, running tests with electronic equipment and communicating through electronic devices. The teacher roves from table to table, offering feedback and asking questions. Increasingly integral to these learning environments are collaborative activities involving synchronous (occurring at the same time) and asynchronous (not occurring at the same time) communication to mediate learning and knowledge building. We see students consulting each other in class groups, through e-mails, forums, and blog discussions. Learning projects and papers are written with feedback and proofreading from others. More sophisticated learning environments such as online learning, virtual learning and learning with artificial intelligence (AI) are enabling different forms of collaboration. The Internet and digital age have made our generation characteristic of sharing and learning from one another. Solo learning is increasingly difficult to accomplish in today’s commonplace tasks.
Key Terms in this Chapter
Cognition: An act of information processing pertaining to memory, attention, perception, action, problem solving and mental imagery.
Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning: A process of increasing in knowledge through joint intellectual effort with the help of computers.
Cognitive System: An area or space where interconnected items of knowledge and representations of human cognitive processes are studied.
Social Cognition: A study on how people process information socially in encoding, storage, retrieval, and application to social situations.
Distributed Cognition: A framework of understanding how information processing is circulated across individuals and artifacts in an environment.
Reductionist: An idea that all complex systems can be completely understood in terms of their components.
Collaborative Learning Environment: A situated area or space, networked or otherwise where there is sharing, coordinating, and cocreating of knowledge between two or more persons aided by artifacts to achieve outcomes they could not accomplish independently.
Human and Computer Interaction: A study on interaction between people and computers.
Socially Mediated: How information and knowledge are exchanged and negotiated between humans.
Artifact: An object or document created by humans.