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Readings in CSCL

Readings & Research in Cognitive Science

Spring Semester 1999

CSCI 7762 -- call #24146

"Computer Mediation of Collaborative Learning:

Philosophy & Practice"

Instructor: Gerry Stahl


Time: Tuesdays 2:00 - 3:15 pm

Place: ICS Conference Room, Muenzinger D430

Carefully designed innovative software promises to provide powerful tools for groups of learners to collaborate in ways that significantly extend human cognitive abilities. Effective design of software and learning practices requires an understanding of how such tools can mediate high-order mental and social cognition. This semester’s seminar will explore the philosophy of mediation and the problem of computer-mediation of collaborative learning through group textual interpretation and reflective practice. Readings will start with Vygotsky and Lave, go back to their philosophical roots and forward to contemporary debates in educational software.

This course is primarily intended for graduate students in philosophy, education, linguistics, psychology, computer science, communications and design. Other people can participate with permission of the instructor. All students interested in a joint Ph.D. in Cognitive Science should take multiple semesters of this course. It involves reading of innovative theories and methodologies of cognitive science. Participants will share interdisciplinary perspectives through in-class and on-line discussion and analysis of dense, controversial texts and of their own research in cognitive science. Close textual analysis of brief readings this semester will relate to the following disciplines:

Philosophy & Social Theory: We will explore the concept of mediation: how learning is mediated by language, tools and society. The philosophy of Lave and Vygotsky will be traced back to discussions of mediation, alienation and commoditization in the tradition of dialectical philosophy (Hegel, Marx). This involves concepts of mind, self-consciousness, interpersonal relations, learning and collaboration. It leads into theories of communication (Habermas), anthropology (Bourdieu) and sociology (Giddens).

Education: This semester focuses on the theory of instructional technology. The seminar will make extensive use of software designed for collaborative learning, based on theories of situated learning (Lave & Wenger) and knowledge building communities (Scardamalia & Bereiter). We will monitor our own computer-supported collaborative learning.

Linguistics & Communications: While not a specific focus this semester, the role of language in social learning is an important recurrent theme throughout the readings. Language is the prime mediator of collaborative cognition.

Psychology: The readings provide a good introduction to cultural psychology, situated cognition and activity theory. The hypothesis of the semester is that computer support and social collaboration can enhance the capabilities of human cognition (Bruner, Cole, Lave, Vygotsky).

Computer Science & Design: The readings discuss practical issues of software design (Boland, Hewitt, Nardi, Roschelle) as well as general motivating theories. The class will be an experiment in collaborative software usage and in how to structure classroom practices to optimize software effectiveness.


Jan 12 introductory slides

Jan 19 Vygotsky

Jan 26 Lave

Feb 2 Lave & Wenger

Feb 9 Scardamalia & Hewitt

Feb 16 Boland & Stahl

Feb 23 Bruner & Caron

Mar 2 Cole

Mar 9 Habermas

Mar 16 Hegel

Mar 23 spring break -- no class

Mar 30 Marx

Apr 6 review Hegel & Marx

Apr 13 review Vygotsky

Apr 20 review Lave

Apr 27 reflection of semester


Vygotsky, L. (1930/1978) Mind in Society. Harvard U. Press. pp. 19-57.

Lave, J. (1991) “Situating Learning in Communities of Practice.” In Resnick. L., Levine, J., Teasley, S. (1991) Perspectives on Socially Shared Cognition. APA. pp. 63-83.

Lave, J. (1996) "Teaching, as Learning, in Practice." In Mind, Culture, and Activity. vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 149-164.

Lave, J. & Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning. Cambridge U. Press. pp. 47-58.

Scardamalia, M. & Bereiter, C. (1996) "Computer Support for Knowledge-Building Communities." In Koschmann, T. (1996) CSCL: Computer Supported Collaborative Learning. Erlbaum. pp. 249-268.

Hewitt, J., Scardamalia, M. & Webb, J. (1998) "Situative Design Issues for Interactive Learning Environments." Available at . pp. 1-11.

Boland, R. & Tenkasi, R. (1995) "Perspective Making and Perspective Taking in Commuities of Knowing." In Organizational Science. vol. 6, no. 4, pp. 350-371.

Stahl, G. (1999) "Collaborative Information Environments to Support Knowledge Construction by Communities." Submitted to AI & Society. Available at

Bruner, J. (1990) “Entry into Meaning.” In Acts of Meaning. Harvard U Press. pp. 67-97.

Caron, J. (1998) "Wide Area Collaboration: A Proposed Application."

Cole, M. (1996) “Putting Culture in the Middle.” In Cultural Psychology. Harvard. pp. 116-145.

Habermas, J. (1971/1973) “Labor and Interaction: Remarks on Hegel’s Jena Philosophy of Mind.” In Theory and Practice. Beacon Press. pp. 142-169.

Hegel, G. (1807/1967) “Independence and Dependence of Self-consciousness: Lordship and Bondage.” In The Phenomenology of Mind. pp. 228-240.

Marx, K. (1844/1967) “Alienated Labor.” In Easton, L. & Guddat, K. (eds.) Writings of the young Marx on Philosophy and Society. Doubleday. pp. 287-300. Available at

Marx, K. (1845/1967)  “Theses on Feuerbach.” In Easton, L. & Guddat, K. (eds.) Writings of the young Marx on Philosophy and Society. Doubleday.

Marx, K. (1867/1976) “Fetishism of Commodities.” In Capital. vol 1. pp. 163-177. Available at

Bourdieu, P. (1972) “Structures and the Habitus.” In Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge. pp. 72-95.

Giddens, A. (1984) “Elements of the Theory of Structuration.” In The Constitution of Society. U of California Press. pp. 1-40.

Nardi, B. (1996) "Activity Theory and Human-Computer Interaction." In Nardi, B. (1996) Context and Consciousness: Activity Theory and Human-Computer Interaction. MIT Press. pp. 7-15.

Roschelle, J. (1998) "Activity Theory: A Foundation for Designing Learning Technology?" Journal of the Learning Sciences. vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 241-255.


The goal of the course is to teach students how to develop careful interpretations of textual materials that require interdisciplinary background understanding. Selected texts will be relatively brief, but dense and difficult. They will be texts that any student would find difficult or impossible to understand fully on their own. The course will overcome this difficulty by (1) practicing techniques of detailed textual analysis, including investigating relevant historical sources of terminology and theoretical frameworks, (2) bringing the diverse disciplinary backgrounds of class participants to bear upon each other’s understandings by collaboratively constructing a group interpretation and (3) applying the theory to concrete problems of software design.

The Instructor:

Gerry Stahl is a Researcher in ICS, CS and L3D (the Center for LifeLong Learning & Design). He brings an interdisciplinary background to this course, having his undergraduate degree from MIT in math and humanities, a PhD from Northwestern in Philosophy (with research on social theory at Frankfurt and Heidelberg), and a PhD from CU in Computer Science. He is currently developing the web software (code named WebGuide) that will be used and analyzed in the seminar. See his home page for links to his publications. See the WebGuide site for information related to WebGuide, including slides from an ICS Colloquium presentation on the "Readings & Research in Cognitive Science" seminar and the role of WebGuide in it.


Students are required to read texts and produce brief on-line notes throughout the semester. Students must make significant contributions to the class’ shared interpretation of the texts being discussed. This includes participation in class discussion and in textual analysis by interdisciplinary teams of students. An on-line discussion forum will be used as a medium for supporting the evolution of text interpretations. Students must contribute both by entering their ideas into this shared hyper-document and by reflecting upon, annotating and organizing the materials that others have entered. This means that students will have to do very careful and repeated readings of the selected texts. They will have to compose brief analytic comments on a weekly basis. They will have to read and comment upon the ideas of other students. There will be no final paper. There will be no exams. Everyone who participates fully in the collaborative effort will pass the course and receive credit within the ICS joint Ph.D. in Cognitive Science program. This course will be cross-listed in PSYC, LING, EDUC and PHIL -- register for CSCI 7762 for now.

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