Chapter 8: Socially Shared Cognition: System Design and the Organization of Collaborative Research
This chapter deals primarily with the attempts of a research team to design and implement an after-school activity for students, where undergraduates aid as facilitators. They begin with two assumptions. The first, belonging to the idea of sharing as experiencing things in common with others as well as giving parts of something equally with others. The second assumption is that cognition is distributed among everything, from the subjects, the tools they use and the places where the learning is taking place.
Brown and Cole describe the theoretical foundations of Socially Shared Cognition in a list of items. First, the mind is central to the distribution of learning. It is grounded with events from everyday life. Second, the learner is an active participant in the learning. They do not always choose the setting in which they learn, but nonetheless they do perform. Third, every learner uses their mind to interpret information that is given to them in order to make meaningful connections and apply to further use.
Brown and Cole then go on to describe The Fifth Dimension Project. It is a playworld in which students play a multitude of games in an RPG (role-play-game) that allows them to collaborate with other students and computer based all-knowing Wizard that facilitates their movement from game to game. There are also university students present that observe the students as they use different skills to complete tasks in the games. They then write up reports and confer with the students to understand their reasoning behind certain steps. The goal of the university students is to master theoretical concepts of learning and understanding how to best facilitate and foster a learning environment that enables students to learn independently. An onsite facilitator marks the progress of students and works as a help guide if there are technical problems.
Brown and Cole then evaluated the Fifth Dimension Project. The evidence that they collected confirmed that students who attended 15 or more times over a period of a few months did increasingly better on their achievement tests at school in the subject areas of mathematical problem solving and reading. It also showed that students had a higher comfort level with using computers and knowing how they function. They also found that students were applying their new found analytical thinking skills to solving problems at school. The university students showed mastery in the core ideas of theoretical concepts and were able to effectively guide students’ learning. Overall, the project was a success, but little was said as to the parallels with Socially Shared Cognition. A lot of inferring was left for the reader to do.
Throughout reading this chapter a lot of ideas resonated with my own personal experience in the classroom. In our school, it is a rule that every teacher needs to be using groups because research suggests that students often learn better from interactions with their peers. This sort of gaming system also tends to support the idea that through the sharing of different ideas on how to reach a solution, students can adopt skills and techniques that they can apply to later problems. I think that this sort of learning environment does work well with students and I liked the example, but I felt like the chapter didn’t fully explain Socially Shared Cognition and how the project revealed traits of it.