In the last editorial, the previous Editor-in-Chief presented his perspective on a decade of publication of CSCL research (Stahl 2015). The editorial provided an excellent overview of important trends in the CSCL field, evident in the history of CSCL itself and related fields of knowledge. This historical reflection about theoretical stances and methodological issues leads to some important observations and reflections that will be part of the agenda in the coming years. I will use some of these reflections as a basis for pointing out some challenges and opportunities for the CSCL field as we enter the next decade.
I found the observations interesting, particularly that CSCL theory has contributed to a high degree of understanding of collaboration in groups, collaborative knowledge building and group cognition, while, to a lesser extent, in technology design and analytic methodology. We can see this as a hypothesis that is based on 10 years of editorial work with the ijCSCL journal, and participation in the community. This observation could also mean that the CSCL community needs to develop models that include both group cognition and how each individual participates within group processes. We can have different units of analysis and levels of descriptions, but also conceptualize how individual contributions constitute the group collaborative efforts. It may be easier to design scaffolds for an individual’s social and cognitive functions than for the social and content-based scaffolds of small groups and of larger social units, but a full understanding requires both.
Another important observation involves asking what the computer support is designed for and which part of the instructional (pedagogical) design involves collaboration between students and teachers. In many CSCL studies, some social aspects are not part of computational design. In such designs, we want attention to specific features that create meaning potential and regulation for students. However, designing for emerging properties of collaboration is a different challenge. Here the overall instructional design and institutional aspects can be seen as dimensions that influence how the students choose to orient themselves in the collaborative effort.
CSCL and Design-Based Research are often seen as tightly related. When DBR became an accepted approach during the late 1990s, many CSCL researchers made use of its principles. The classical method (e.g., Brown 1992) was based on pre-posttest design with control groups in naturalistic settings. Some scholars have followed this path. The DBR principles have also been altered towards the use of both experimental and ethnographic methods. In the CSCL field, DBR is an approach that makes it possible to test new technological features and representations (e.g., visualizations) with a clear scope and rigor (Jeong et al. 2014).
Another interesting question to consider is how phenomena like mass collaboration and learning analytics will change the CSCL field. These new social configurations and environments challenge mainstream assumptions about collaborative learning and ask us to reconsider the types of research design and methodologies that will become most productive and influential in the coming years.
In CSCL research, one can identify influential studies that are based on either the cognitive, socio-cognitive or socio-cultural perspectives (Damsa 2014; Overdijk et al. 2014; Cuendet et al. 2015; Enyedy et al. 2015). These different orientations imply that the scholars’ analytic attentions are directed towards different aspects of learning and human cognition, and how the computational support enhances the learning activities. The most important difference is how collaboration is accounted for. Within the cognitive and socio-cognitive perspectives, individual processes and outcome measures are normally assessed. The socio-cultural studies have mostly been concerned with the investigation of emerging interactions and practices. Conceptually, one could frame the different units of analysis in CSCL as three interdependent layers—individual, small group and community—all of which are needed to understand and explain collaborative learning with computational tools. The CSCL research community conducts both quantitative and qualitative studies, making use of mixed methods approaches. We explore ways to discriminate between what can be explained by social interactions and by individual students’ actions. In order to understand collaboration with computer support, we need experimental studies, quasi-experimental studies, naturalistic studies, randomized controlled trials and use of a wide range of analytic techniques. This means that both experimental and naturalistic settings are required to further explore key issues in the CSCL field.
As a community, we need variation in the units of analysis and levels of description. This is what, in sum, makes the CSCL community a robust and vibrant research field that can contribute to new conceptualizations of computer support for collaborative learning, and empirical evidence that can contribute to more advanced learning activities in schools, higher education, and leisure time. The papers in the issue address several of the challenges emphasized in this introduction.
The four papers in this issue contribute with new insight into:
How scripted roles can be used to enhance students understanding of knowledge building principles;
How resistance and perspectival understanding in chat logs support the students’ agency to move beyond simple statements;
How students can move towards formalization of mathematical language in an environment without experts present; and
How vital teachers can be for scaffolding students’ conceptual sense making when students move from a lab experiment towards writing a short report.