This project builds on cognitive science theories of the role of artifacts in learning, understanding and working. It also adapts methods of human interaction analysis – based on detailed study of digitized video recordings – to the investigation of the use of computer-based simulations and communication media in collaborative learning settings. It thereby develops and tests a methodology for the field of CSCL (computer-supported collaborative learning). This methodology allows researchers to investigate sessions of collaborative learning by describing interactions of participants with artifacts, expressed through discourse patterns and social practices. Specifically, computer support systems are also conceptualized as artifacts, so the methodology includes assessment of how particular software systems are adopted and whether their designs are effective in usage. In contrast to prevailing methodologies for educational technology that are based on psychological theories of individual learners, this methodology is grounded in social theories of human interaction and is therefore especially suited to support of collaborative learning. The project studies how a small group of middle school students learns to use a computer simulation of rocket launches as a tool for scientific knowledge-building. As the project goes on, this simulation is incorporated into an on-line environment for knowledge-building. The research methodology is then adapted for virtual collaboration and provides formative evaluation for the computer simulation, the collaboration software and the classroom pedagogy. The goal is to have the students treat the simulation as more than a video game, the communication medium as more than a chat roo
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