Collaboration or small group learning is a method that is often utilized in everyday classroom practice that is widely recognized as a way to enhance learning. The positive effects of collaboration are explained by the fact that students provide arguments and explanations so that their partner is able to understand and evaluate their ideas and plans. The process of externalization of thoughts and ideas is believed to increase students’ awareness of flaws and inconsistencies in their own reasoning or theories and to stimulate students to revisit their initial ideas. Collaborative learning can take place in a face-to-face setting but also in computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL) environments. In CSCL environments students use ICT-based tools to collaboratively construct knowledge and solve problems together.
Collaboration is not always effective, however. For instance, it is not self-evident that students who work together will engage in the cognitive processes that are needed to enhance learning. Also, several studies reveal that collaborating students may only rarely engage in task- focused interactions. Therefore, it is interesting to analyse how collaborative learning can be supported with tools and scaffolds in order for frequent task-focused and high quality interactions between students to occur. Research questions within this program could be:
- Which student characteristics influence the collaborative learning processes?
- How can we create computer supported leaning environments that effectively support the exchange of knowledge and ideas between primary school students?
- What are the characteristics of effective CSCL arrangements?
- What kind of guidance (in the form scripts, instruction or scaffolds) should we provide students with to improve the quality of their collaborative learning processes?
- How can representational tools (like drawings and concept maps) help students to structure and organize knowledge during the collaborative learning task?
- What is the effect of direct instruction and self- and peer assessment on vocational technical students’ collaboration skills and knowledge?