Prospectus for Collaborative Research Involving

the Center for Lifelong Learning and Design and

the Problem-Based Learning Initiative

draft by Tim Koschmann and Gerry Stahl and Howard Barrows

This is a working paper written to stimulate discussion on the possibilities for initiating a collaboration involving the Center for Lifelong Learning and Design (L3D) at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Problem-Based Learning Initiative PBLI) at the Southern Illinois University. The document will begin with a description of each of these organizations (Sections 1 and 2). It will then present a set of shared research goals (Section 3) and will conclude with a plan for realizing these goals (Section 4).

1. The Center for Lifelong Learning and Design

An interdisciplinary center housed under the Department of Computer Science and the Institute for Cognitive Science, L3D is concerned with how learning can be supported with computer technology. Learning is here taken as a life-long endeavor including both formal education (K-12, college, graduate school, professional training) and learning on-the-job or through life experience. Design tasks are taken as paradigmatic learning situations, in which specifying the problem or goal under open-ended conditions is a central part of solving the problem; while there may be better solutions, there is often no final or privileged solution. Another situation of central interest at L3D is group learning, particularly web-based communication among people who are distributed in space and time.

At L3D, research into support for learning is conducted through a combination of theory construction, software prototype development and in situ assessment. Accordingly, L3D projects are concerned with issues of learning cognition (particularly collaborative and organizational learning) and the social context and practices of learning. They are also concerned with technical issues of designing software support tools that provide appropriate communication media among learners and between learners and their computer tools. Finally, they are concerned with issues of assessment of high-functionality tools used in complex social settings.

2. The Problem-Based Learning Initiative

<<Tim's part>>

3. Joint Research Goals

In this section we will attempt to lay out some of research questions that drive this collaborative effort. The collaboration between these two organizations is by its very nature interdisciplinary. To facilitate discussion about research goals, we will divide the questions into four, roughly disciplinary categories: cognitive, social science, pedagogical, and technology-related.

3.1 Cognitive Research (theories of learning).

bulletLearners' (and teacher) beliefs about knowledge & learning (i.e., differences in learner epistemologies [Alexander et al., 1998]. Where does it occur? How do you know it has happened? )
bulletIssues related to Cognitive Flexibility Theory
bulletMotivation and self-regulated learning by individuals (Pintrich & Schrauben, 1992; Boekaerts, 1996) and groups (Lave & Wenger).
bulletThe nature of collaborative / group / social cognition.

3.2 Social Science Research (theories of practice [c.f. Bourdeiu, 1990]).

bulletContinuation of microanalytic studies of how people do PBL (i.e. How are learning deficiencies recognized? How are theories occasioned?)
bulletLearner strategies (i.e., How is time outside of meetings organized [Csikszentmihalyi 'beeper studies'?]? What are learners actually trying to do? [Holt, Eckert] What learning resources are used?)
bulletHow does collaborative learning take place? What social practices facilitate it?

3.3 Pedagogically-Related Research (methodology/teaching theory).

bulletDesign of distance-PBL (organization of activities, composition of groups, required tutor/coach skills, "knowledge-building communities" [Scardamalia and Bereiter, 1996] vs. development of skills for lifelong learning)
bulletCurriculum/content (need for integration across disciplines, conflicts with standards and accountability)
bulletAssessment issues (assessment in collaborative settings, development of self-assessment skills, assessment in the ZPD)

3.4 Technology-Related Research.

bulletHow to design analogs for the F2F meeting (e.g., the "boards", the PBLM)
bulletHow to support individual and group research (e.g., organizing the results of literature searches on the web using perspectives [Stahl, 1998a]).
bulletHow to support organizational learning (e.g., archiving ideas generated during the research and problem-solving discussion phases [Stahl, 1998b]).

4. Tentative Research Plan

This plan is for a three year staged project. The approach builds on existing expertise at the partner institutions, namely face-to-face learning by medical students and web tools for support of discussion and organizational memory for people who work and learn together. It gradually extends the teaching methods and technological support until it can be used by geographically distributed high school students learning science. Each year of the project focuses on a different set of users:

Year I: The paper-based PBL curriculum will be extended with computer support and will be field tested using groups of medical students at SUI who are already accustomed to the PBL approach. Computer support will not only put the curricular materials on-line, but will provide tools for discussing the materials outside of class, for organizing information found during research phases and for retaining and browsing all materials collected by the group. Learning practices such as group discussions will be modified to take full advantage of the computer support. Careful evaluation will be conducted to measure the effects of the computer support as compared to control groups.

Year II: The project will be extended in two directions:

  1. Distributed learning: groups of medical students will participate in PBL modules in which they never meet physically. All interaction will be conducted through the web tools.
  2. High school: a couple of high school classrooms will study life sciences using a specially modified PBL curriculum and the tools from Year I. The students will meet face-to-face to do problem solving, as well as conducting web research individually.

Year III: Two courses in the life sciences will be offered over the web for high school students in Illinois and Colorado. Individual students from distributed schools will enroll, with the participation of their local science teacher. All materials will be distributed on the web and all participation will take place via web-based tools. Participating high schools will be selected to provide a diversity of experiences for evaluation, from privileged, resource-rich schools to disadvantaged schools.

5. References

Alexander, P., Murphy, P.K., Guan, J., & Murphy, P. (1998). How students and teachers in Singapore and the United States conceptualize knowledge and beliefs: Positioning learning within epistemological frameworks. Learning and Instruction, 8, 97–116.

Boekaerts, M. (1996). Self-regulated learning: A new concept embraced by researchers, policy makers, educators, teachers, and students. Learning and Instruction.

Bourdieu, P. (1990). The logic of practice (Trans. by R. Nice). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

Koschmann, T. (in press). Tools of termlessness: Technology, educational reform, and Deweyan inquiry. To appear in Tim O'Shea (Ed.), Virtual Learning Environments. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Lave, J. & Wenger, () Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation.

Pintrich, P.R. & Schrauben, B. (1992). Students' motivational beliefs and their cognitive engagement in classroom academic tasks. In D. Schunk & J. Meece (Eds.), Student perceptions in the classroom: Causes and consequences (pp. 149–183). Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

Scardamalia, M. & Berieter, C. (1996). Computer support for knowledge building communities. In T. Koschmann (Ed.) CSCL: Theory and practice of an emerging paradigm (pp. 249–268). Rahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Stahl, G. (1998a) Learning Perspectives. Submitted to ICLS’98.

Stahl, G. (1998b) Collaborative Information Environments for LifeLong Learning in Communities. Presented at DCSCW’98.