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The CSCL Situation

In the educational situations designed in the LEAD project (see endnote 1), secondary school students worked with CSCL software in small groups in the classroom using concurrently both the communication and the collaborative work software via the local network (partitioned for each group) and communicat- ing (verbally and non-verbally) face-to-face. The guiding principle of the project as a whole was that stu- dents would be able to coordinate their interface actions more easily using speech (that can be produced in paral- lel to interface actions), and thus focus on collaborating to perform the educational task.

Within a design–implementation–evaluation itera- tive cycle, during the first year of the LEAD project, we decided to experiment with existing software, similar in functionalities to what would be developed subse- quently, to inform ongoing software design. The soft- ware that was used in our study was called drew, it was designed to support collaborative argumentation-based activities across Intranet or Internet.

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Figure 1 shows one of the configurations of the shared workspace of drew, with a chat in the top-left corner, a collaborative writing tool in the top right, a whiteboard bottom left, and an argumentation diagram tool in the bottom right.

The argumentation diagram tool comprises boxes for arguments/theses and only two types of argumentative links (‘+’ and ‘-’, or else undefined: ‘?’). Different colours are automatically assigned to each participant (up to 12). Opinions (for or against) can be expressed with respect to each element of the diagram. As a means of focusing students’ atten- tion on conflicts of opinion, when for and against opin- ions are expressed by different users with respect to a given argument box, it becomes ‘scrunched’. The ratio- nale of these features was to provide a simple tool in terms of types of links and boxes, which would thus enable students to focus on the domain of discourse, rather than the representational format, and to reify the difficult argument/opinion distinction.

The Internet version of drew was reprogrammed to function in a local network, with individual chat rooms for each subgroup in the class. Once the main application is launched, students input their names and enter chat rooms corresponding to their groups, as defined by the teacher.

The teacher cannot control the information input by the students; the software does not prevent changing from one chat room to another and performing inter- face actions within it. drew allows the researcher to recuperate an automatic trace of all interface actions (including local server time of actions).

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