Collaborative Design in School: Conflicts, Contradictions, Agreements, and Disagreements to Learn

Collaborative Design in School: Conflicts, Contradictions, Agreements, and Disagreements to Learn

Valérie Tartas, Marcelo Giglio
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9634-1.ch020
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This chapter presents a literature review on collaboration to learn with some illustrations to design adequate collaborative settings to promote learning in the classroom. From a socio-cultural approach of education, the authors present the way teacher and students participate together in several discursive activities to elaborate a shared understanding of the topic or task under study. This chapter offers two collaborative designs: an argumentative tool-based collaboration in astronomy and a creative collaboration in music education. Some examples are proposed in order to identify different conflicts, contradictions, agreements and disagreements between students to solve a problem, complete a task or create a product in collaboration.
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Learning in interactive groups has increased in scholastic contexts. Literature on cooperative and the one on collaborative approaches are intermixed (Menges & Austin, 2002; Thousand, Villa & Nevin, 1994) with several researchers reporting on cooperative and collaborative learning by students (Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1991, 1996; Bosworth & Hamilton, 1994). In a collaborative setting, student accountability is less prominent in collaboration than in cooperation, recognizing that knowledge is communal (Bruffee, 1995). As distinctive characteristics, in educational approaches to teaching and learning, collaborative learning involves groups of students working together to solve problems, complete tasks or create products (Laal, & Laal, 2012; Welch, 1998). Collaboration is a social interaction that evolves between individuals with a common purpose through ideas and shared knowledge (Miell & Littleton, 2008, Moran & John-Steiner, 2004; Sawyer, 2008). It is a recurrent activity emerging during social interactions in favorable contexts but it sounds different in educational or professional settings where people are assessed individually rather than collaboratively. As a consequence, learning is often studied or explained as process relying only on the individual cognitive abilities. What happens when learning is defined as a collaborative discursive or dialogical activity (Baker, 2009; Grossen, 2010; Mercer, 2000, 2009; Perret-Clermont, 1996)? Such a sociocultural perspective of learning and social interaction implies not only tool and sign uses but also reflective uses of tools and signs (Gillepsie & Zittoun, 2010).

The main aim of this chapter is to review literature on collaboration to learn and to provide illustrations with special attention to the design of adequate collaborative settings to promote learning in the classroom. How can teachers design collaborative activities? How do students use tools proposed by the teacher, and in which conditions are these tools appropriated and used in a collaborative activity? In other words, this chapter proposes to examine how schools enable children’s collaboration to learn. Relying first on literature about the conditions for “productive collaboration” involving the role of agreement and disagreement, the role of initial knowledge, the role of tools as well as resources or artifacts, and the role of discourse-based activity, we shed light on the relationships between students and between teachers and students in productive and collaborative activities. As a matter of fact, productive collaboration needs to be guided by the teacher in the classroom. It is not sufficient to command students to collaborate or work together to solve a problem, complete a task or create new objects. Inspired by Mercer (1995, 2004), collaborative experiences in teaching can require teachers to discuss with students by eliciting knowledge from learners, responding to what they say and describing significant aspects of shared collaborative experiences.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Dialogic Teaching: This expression means to use talk more effectively for carrying out teaching and learning. It involves ongoing talk between teachers and learners and not just a teacher-led approach to teaching-learning situations. It gives more opportunities for students to contribute to classroom dialogue in order to build together knowledge and enter in the process of its elaboration. They can explore the limits of their understandings through dialogues as a new tool for constructing knowledge. Teachers can explain ideas, clarify points and reformulate, and help students grasp new ways of learning in order to make them enter in a dialogical way of learning. In its first uses it is oriented towards teachers in order to help them diagnose student needs and assess their progress. It requires interactions that encourage students to think in different ways, discussion and argumentation, and a specific environment that contributes to enhance collaborative work.

Scaffolding: In its original use scaffolding describes interactions between a parent or educator and a child or between a tutor and a student. The more expert partner provides just enough support based on the progress by the child. Resources and environments may also be used as scaffolds.

Creative Collaboration: Collaboration is linked with creativity. Creative collaboration describes a relationship between two or more persons with a common purpose of creating new objects through certain ideas and shared understanding of something new and a common goal.

Exploratory Talk: It has been defined as a specific mode of social interactions in the class. Exploratory talk is that in which partners engage critically but constructively with each other’s ideas. Relevant information is offered for joint consideration. Proposals may be challenged and counter-challenged, but if so reasons are given and alternatives are offered. Agreement is sought as a basis for joint progress. Knowledge is made publicly accountable and reasoning is visible in the talk.

Artifacts: Something shaped or designed by a human being. In a sociocultural approach it has been proposed by Vygotsky in order to study the fact that human-environment interactions are not directed but are mediated by tools that can be of two kinds: technical artifacts that mediate human beings and the physical world and semiotic ones, or signs that mediate the relation between individuals and an individual and himself.

Collaboration or Collaborative Learning: These expressions have been used to designate a learning situation in which learners attempt to learn together. It is opposed to an individualistic approach to learning and is rather focused on the socio-cognitive conditions for learners to reach a shared definition of the learning situation (shared goals for example). It includes face-to-face interactions or teacher-students’ interactions in classrooms and also computer-mediated interactions (forum, chat rooms, etc.). Collaborative learning can include collaborating writing, joint problem solving, collaborative creative work, debates, study teams, etc.

Collaborative Dialogues: Collaborative dialogues have been proposed in order to specifically focus on the role of dialogues and talk in learning situations and can include dialogical teaching, exploratory talk, etc.

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