The field of mobile computer supported collaborative learning has
emerged in recent years spawning numerous technological designs for
learning (Liu & Kao, 2007; Yin, Ogata, & Yano, 2007; Zurita
& Nussbaum, 2004). Regardless of many contemporary mobile learning
attempts focusing on out-of-class and contextualized learning, such as
science centre visits, museum visits, field trips etc., (W. Chen, Tan,
Looi, Zhang, & Seow, 2008; Y. S. Chen, Kao, Yu, & Sheu, 2004;
Cupic & Mihajlovic, 2010; Fertalj, Hoic-Bozic, & Jerkovic, 2010;
Jurcevic, Hegedus, & Golub, 2010; Kennedy & Levy, 2008; Klopfer
& Squire, 2008; O'Malley & al., 2004; Rogers & al.,
2002; Sharples, Lonsdale, Meek, Rudman, & Vavoula, 2007), we further
investigate the potential of collaborative mobile technologies
supporting collaboration in small groups (Colella, 2000; Dufresne,
Gerace, Leonard, Mestre, & Wenk, 1996; Nussbaum, et al., 2009) in
classrooms. As we want to promote collaborative learning amongst the
students, we sought about designing collaborative activities in science
and mathematics using these smartphone computers (Chan, et al., 2006;
Looi, et al., 2010).
This paper presents a design for mobile computer supported
collaborative learning in primary school classrooms in Singapore. Our
research context is that we have been doing a two-year longitudinal
design research study with a primary school in Singapore. We co-designed
a whole year's worth of lessons in science which are delivered
through handhelds, specifically smartphone computers, and enacted these
lessons over the course of one year. As such, the students in our
experimental class are familiar with using their handhelds.
Our three-year study initially focused on science which inspired us
to design a collaborative activity for math learning. In this activity,
after students are assigned a fraction on their handheld, they are asked
to form a group with other students in which the sum of their fractions
is one. The activity completes only if every student belongs to a group
with such a solution, thus requiring students to collaborate and to
avoid or get out of the preferred social arrangements in order to help
their peers in completing the task. During this study, we do not only
rely on rich technological infrastructure (modern HTC Tytn II mobile
phones and reliable 3G broadband internet connection). It is the
classroom culture of 1:1 handheld device per student (Chan, et al.,
2006) which allows us to critically read the affordances of our design
from the student trial runs.
Building on this prior work in mCSCL, we explore the design of
in-class mobile collaborative synchronous learning with flexible, small
group sizes. We want to explore the space of collaborative activities in
which students have to search and form their own groups in doing the
activity. Such a socio-technical design of our collaborative activity is
intended to help students in identifying their own strategies of
achieving the both the local and global goals via collaborative work.
This paper is organized as follows: in the next section, we provide
a brief overview of recent developments in mCSCL in classroom settings.
We will then present the design of our mobile-computer supported
learning fractions activity. The subsequent section reports on our
initial trials that seek to find out whether and how the collaborative
scaffolding helps students in achieving both the local and global goals.
In the final section, we propose a generic model for mobile computer
supported collaborative activities that support a range of other tasks
in learning languages, science or other disciplines.
Mobile Computer Supported Collaborative Learning
Early research in computer supported collaborative learning (CSCL)
tends to foreground the role of computers as the focus of attention.
Typically, each student uses a fixed-location glued-to-the-desk computer
as the tool for collaboration. However, both the focus on the tool and
the lack of collaboration actually happening have led to some skepticism
in initial CSCL trials. It was felt that social interaction does not
simply happen with a computer-based environment, thus emphasizing social
and psychological dimension of the desired social interaction (Kreijns,
2003). In advocating their approach to future classrooms organized
around WILD (Wireless Internet Learning Devices), Roschelle and Pea
argue that CSCL should leverage on application-level affordances such as
augmenting physical spaces, leveraging topological spaces, aggregating
coherently across all students as well as on the physical affordances of
mobile devices (Roschelle & Pea, 2002).
mCSCL can be considered as a specialization of the field of CSCL.
It alleviates the constraint posed by fixed times and locations for
doing the collaboration activities. By employing mobile devices,
learning becomes personal and mobile, and students are able to
participate in collaborative learning activities when and where they
want to (Looi, et al., 2010). Some research studies have shown that the
use of mobile devices in classrooms could significantly impact student
collaboration (Tseng, Hwang, & Chan, 2005). Students leverage on
their own mobility and the mobility of the devices in order to
coordinate collaboration and to exchange information simultaneously over
the wirelessly connected devices.
One important research tackles the use of mobile connected devices
in classrooms for the education of children of age six to seven (Zurita
& Nussbaum, 2004). These students were given language and
mathematics tasks they had to solve by working in groups. In the
process, they had to exhibit a certain level of interaction and
communication in order to complete the group tasks. The authors report
that the use of wireless networks in the classroom opened up many
educational possibilities and that mobile devices advance various
components of collaborative learning, namely, the learning material
organisation, social negotiation space, communication between team
members, coordination between activity states and the possibilities for
interactivity and mobility of team members (Kreijns, Kirschner, &
Jochems, 2002). Concerning the main advantages of mobile versus
classical computer supported collaborative learning, enhanced
possibility for communication, negotiation and mobility has been
proposed (Zurita & Nussbaum, 2004). Together with appropriate design
of learning activities, a network infrastructure of mobile devices can
support collaborative activities in which students extend their area of
communication and mutual interaction.
In their conceptual framework for mCSCL (Zurita & Nussbaum,
2007), the authors take an activity theory approach by building on the
Engestrom's expanded Activity Theory (AT) model (Engestrom, 1999)
and identify three main components of the mCSCL activity system: the
Network component, the Rules and Roles component and the Collaborative
Activity component spanning across so called social and technological
activity dimensions. Grouping criteria have also been claimed to have
impact on mobile collaborative learning. In a study on the impact of
grouping criteria on socio-motivational aspect commonly used to evaluate
collaborative learning (Zurita, Nussbaum, & Salinas, 2005), authors
have determined that "when the children select their group mates
(so called Preference criterion) more social behavior aspects with
significant improvement can be observed" (p.159). The study
therefore foregrounds personal students' preference towards their
classmates as the top grouping criterion in order to achieve a more
We are interested in exploring and designing the space of
collaborative activities which enable students to practice
communication, negotiation and coordination skills in the process of
forming their own groups to solve a group goal. In our approach we
supplement the two-level (social and technological) network analysis
with a spatial network. The spatial network allows us to more precisely
pinpoint the social process in our pursuit of analyzing learning and
collaboration occurrences. By employing flexible grouping approach, we
allow students to choose their own groups depending on their personal
preferences. Since there is a reported negative effect of personal
preference grouping criterion on negotiation (Zurita, et al., 2005), we
introduce more structure to the activity by using technological
scaffolding in order to channel student grouping choices.
Design of FAO collaborative application
In this in-class activity each student has a handheld device. Once
they launch FAO, their handhelds are connected to FAO server through a
3G wireless network. Fractions are depicted on students' mobile
devices in form of circle sectors (slices) (Figure 1). Students have to
collaborate in order to merge (add) fractions. They have to identify
peers with complementary fractions (with respect to getting a sum of 1)
and then invite them to form groups (Figure 2). The main goal of the
assignment for each emerging group is to form a full circle (a whole) by
combining circle sectors (graphical representations of fractions).
Inter-group collaboration and negotiation may be necessary to complete
[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]
[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]
Collaborative scaffolding is provided by the designed mobile
collaborative technology, students' existing personal relationships
and the teacher's facilitation. We analyze student participation in
the activity through three networks: technological, social and the
spatial network which enables a form of embodied participation and is
formed by the dynamical rearrangement of the students as they move about
with their devices. The three networks together provide the
infrastructure for supporting coordination, communication, negotiation
Based on the screen information available on their handhelds, each
student can access her own fraction as well as access the fractions of
all other students in the class. This provides the technological level
of support for the activity. The students also rely on their social
network of close friends in the class. They are more likely to invite
their own friends or their own gender friends to form their own group
which provides the social level of support. As the students are mobile,
they re-arrange their spatial configuration as they move. It is also
likely that they interact with those who are near them spatially.
Phase I of activity: Distribution of Fractions
As soon as all the students have turned their devices on and the
teacher started the activity, the server registers the total number of
students and then runs an algorithm to randomly assign a fraction to
each student (Figure 3). The algorithm ensures that there is a global
solution, namely, a configuration of groups of students in which every
student belongs to a group and every group completes its task. Although
the random fraction distribution ensures fraction diversity, the
teachers can control the type of fractions distributed therefore
structuring and fine-tuning the activity.
[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]
[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]
In Figure 4, the system detected five students as potential
activity participants and assigned them with randomly generated
fractions. The generated fractions are 1/2, 1/2, 1/2, 1/3 and 1/6 and
are displayed on students' mobile devices. In this first phase of
the activity, students ponder about their individual fractions and try
to find out what are the other generated fractions in order to figure
out the possible ways of forming groups.
Phase II of activity: Negotiation and exchange
To identify the potential candidates in order to form a group, a
student can rely on the graphical user interface of her mobile device
and browse through the list of all available students and their
fractions (Figure 5) or they approach the problem through face-to-face
interactions and detect the potential candidates through conversation.
When a student identifies another student with whom she could form a
group, she uses her mobile device to issue the group invitation. The
request is then dispatched to the server side which forwards it to the
invited student (Figure 6). Through a series of invitations, accepted
and rejected requests, students arrange themselves to form groups.
[FIGURE 5 OMITTED]
[FIGURE 6 OMITTED]
[FIGURE 7 OMITTED]
Some students may have some difficulties with adding up the
fractions or with reaching some local optimum (Figure 7). Local optimum
presents a formed whole circle within a group. Although optimal for a
group, it might not be optimal for all groups. Some groups might be
blocked in reaching their local optimal solutions because one group
reached a certain local optimum. The group then has to be broken and
other groups have to be assembled, hopefully leading to optimal
solutions for all groups which leads to the completed activity.
Phase III of activity: Towards the global-oriented goal of all FAO
Figure 7 shows an activity with six students who have already been
assigned with fractions. Through the collaboration they were able to
form two groups but are unable to accept the one leftover student
(holding 1/2) since adding his fraction would make both group fractions
larger than a whole. In order to achieve both the local and global
goals, students have to negotiate and to re-form their group
memberships. Thus, in addition to the individual goal of forming a
whole, students have to work collaboratively in order to achieve the
common goal of all groups having a full circle. Nevertheless, while some
groups might have formed their wholes (their individual collaborative
goal is achieved), the others might have reached a dead-end situation,
and be unable to proceed. This is a situation where students are
required to put the global goal before the individual or group goals and
to try thinking collaboratively about other possible solutions or group
configurations. Only when each group has formed a whole is the activity
Trials of the Collaborative Activities
The proposed design was evaluated through a series of trials with
the primary school children roughly aged 8-9 grouped in groups of 8 and
16 students divided in two batches. The first batch of students was
introduced to the software and the "ways of doing the
collaboration". Students had some prior experience in using
different mobile learning tools and needed just a brief overview of the
FAO software. The second batch of students was not familiar with the
"ways of doing the collaboration" such as how to invite other
students to their groups, how to negotiate for their cause, align their
personal goals with the overall group goal etc.
In order for the trials to mimic the actual classroom arrangement,
the research team worked closely with the teachers of two classes. All
students received the instructions on "how to do the
collaboration". This included simple rules such as: "when you
are in the same group stand together", "you are allowed to
talk to other students in addition to working on the device",
"do not automatically reject group invitations, and talk to your
colleagues to see their needs" etc. Concerning the students'
knowledge of fractions and fractions operations, it is important to note
that understanding fractions do present a challenge to some of the
students as one student critically commented: "Fractions are
worse!" meaning the most difficult.
How Groups Emerged in one Trial Run
We look into how students perform in one trial run. We use a visual
coding scheme which shows the spatial distribution of the students who
are identified by their individual fractions, their current grouping,
and their gender dimensions. Male students are shaded and named with
abbreviations starting with M, while the female students have the names
starting with F. Their position and mutual distance in the picture
reflects actual position and distance taken during the game. In the
beginning of the activity, the students started exchanging ideas about
arranging fractions (denoted by the two-direction arrows) (Figure 8).
The discussion started to grow from pairs to groups of three and four
students (Figure 9).
[FIGURE 8 OMITTED]
[FIGURE 9 OMITTED]
As the activity progressed, two groups were almost simultaneously
formed indicating positive outcome of the negotiation activities.
Following the successful creation of two groups the third group was
created (Figure 10). Although the system provided the student with the
flexibility of choices of choosing other students (Ml, M3, M4, Fl, F2,
F4 could all make pairs with each other), personal and gender
preferences influenced the way groups were formed. This had an impact on
the dynamics and complexity of the activity: as it progressed, the
overall number of the possible combination decreases making the choice
of partners more straightforward.
[FIGURE 10 OMITTED]
[FIGURE 11 OMITTED]
Two students (F3 and M2) were applying the "combining same
fractions strategy" and were not aware them joining could lead to a
whole. They decided to seek peers' assistance in identifying the
possible solution for the activity (Figure 11). Not able to
independently make the decision, student F2 was dispatched to seek the
assistance from the teacher. In the meantime, the discussion between
other team members continued (Figure 12).
[FIGURE 12 OMITTED]
[FIGURE 13 OMITTED]
After some additional consultation with the other teams and some
teacher facilitation, students F3 and M2 finally managed to form a group
leading the overall team effort towards the end (Figure 13). Figure 14
illustrates the spatial group arrangement for all students while the
Figure 15 provides a close-up view of the intra-group interaction during
[FIGURE 14 OMITTED]
[FIGURE 15 OMITTED]
Negotiating Local and Global Goals through Backtracking
The previous trial run is straightforward in the sense students did
not have to backtrack, meaning there was no need to disassemble the
groups they are in and to assemble new ones. The focus was on achieving
individual goals and yet at the same time, the global goal is reached.
There are other runs in which students get into groups which require
them to disband and re-group, and enter into new negotiations leading to
new group configurations in which every student belongs to a group which
achieves the goal of having the sum of their fractions as one.
We discuss such a case in a trial run with 14 students using a
series of screenshots from the teacher's console showing assembled
groups. Figure 16 shows the 8th step (the 8th group configuration) in
the activity. Students negotiated their way to this step in a fairly
straightforward fashion: they employed a simple strategy of combining
the same fractions to create the group (1/2 went together with 1/2, 2/4
with 2/4, 1/3 with 1/3 and 1/6 with 1/6). When several choices of
students with the same fractions become possible, the students employed
the strategies of personal and spatial preference in choosing their
[FIGURE 16 OMITTED]
[FIGURE 17 OMITTED]
[FIGURE 18 OMITTED]
After the 8th step, the students were faced with the consequences
of the chosen strategy: they were not able to proceed by simply
combining the same fractions because of a simple reason: there were not
enough fractions to combine. On the other hand, there were other
fractions they could use but their strategy had to be changed or
supplemented. After a short period of discussion, social interaction,
peer instruction and some scaffolding provided by the technology and the
teacher, the students were able to advance to the next step of the
activity. The teacher scaffolding in this case consisted of a teacher
pausing the activity, explaining the current group configuration to
students, explaining students they have break their current groups in
order for the activity to proceed and helping them find the potential
peers on their own (Figure 17).
As the activity progressed, the number of groups could only drop or
remain the same. To identify the deadlocks due to the backtracking, the
teacher tracked the number of active groups on her computer (Figure 18).
If the number of groups remained constant throughout a longer period of
time as shown in Figure 18, the teacher could intervene and provide some
additional scaffolding by advising some groups to re-group.
Strategies adopted by students
The activity began with researchers giving some brief instructions
to students on how to use the device and the software. The series of
trials show that the children have no problems with the use of the
technology mostly because they have had the chance to use handhelds (HTC
Tytn II devices) throughout a prior series of lessons. They were both
familiar with the pre-installed software solutions such as Excel and
Word and were taught how to use custom-made software solutions for
mobile learning. Therefore, there were no usability issues, and the
students were able to quickly familiarize themselves with the
user-interface and used the application effectively.
After the initial period of confusion, resulting in a short period
of silence throughout which the problem of forming wholes out of
fractions was mentally processed, the activity continued. In addition to
individual effort of examining the list of all students and their
assigned fractions, some strategies started to emerge and were shared
amongst the participating students. The main strategies are: looking for
the same fractions in order to form a whole, identifying students to
invite to be in one's group based on what other fractions are
needed to make a whole, gender and personal preferences, and just
randomly sending out invitations.
Prior to distributing the fractions to students, the system
generated the fractions with a specially designed algorithm designed to
achieve two main goals: diverse randomized fractions and achievable
final solutions (the global goal or solution). This means that some
students received the same fractions (e.g. 1/2 and 1/2) They started
looking for peers with the same fractions in order to create groups
which in some cases turned out to be a successful strategy, while in
other it caused impasse situations and required some backtracking prior
to achieving the group goal. Here are some conversations of the students
while exercising "choose the same fraction" strategy:
* One student explained her self-employed strategy: "If I have
2/4 I go and look for other 2/4".
* One student asked out loud: "Who does not have a
fraction?" He then approached a student without a group: "How
much do you need?" Another student joined the discussion: "You
have 1/2!, you need 1/2". The student without a group responded:
"But it is only Kenny [another student a bit further away] who has
1/2 and every time I invite he says do not want to." The second
student suggested the way for the student without a group to proceed:
"Then just talk to him."
* One student took on a mediating role and circled around the room
trying to identify who should join with whom. After a while he suggested
out loud: "Clifford and Wendy both have 1/2". Then he spoke
directly to Wendy: "You will have to go with Clifford".
The technological layer provided some scaffolding during the
process: the students had a list of all other students with their
assigned fractions. In addition to the individual approach of
identifying the same fractions from the list, the students could switch
to the social and spatial network to receive some additional
technological scaffolding from comparing concrete and abstract
representations of their fractions.
The students had many different configurations to choose from when
assembling the groups in order to reach the global goal. Most of them
utilized the spatial network to approach physically nearest peers and
try to make a group together with them. Since students' personal
and gender preferences controlled initial spatial activity arrangements,
students were able to take some ownership of the activity.
One impasse faced by the students occurred when the software did
not allow them to increase the sum of their fractions beyond one. These
students were surprised by the system message of being unable to allow
the group of just two members (e.g. members with 2/3 and 1/2). To get
out of this impasse, they had to question or relook at their strategy of
merging any two students and looking for the third member to complete
Almost all students approached the activity only with the
individual goals in their mind without thinking about the global goal.
They had to be reminded on numerous occasions about it and were
encouraged by the teacher to assist their peers in rearranging or
perhaps even breaking their own groups. The understanding of the shared
goals was perhaps the most difficult for the primary school children to
grasp. Nevertheless, some students acted as mediators, being able to
cover both the task and the ways of connecting individually oriented
Learning to collaborate
Learning how to collaborate proved to be another demanding task for
the primary school students. Achieving the local and the global task
goals required them to extend their social circles and go beyond their
social comfort zones. The activities started with fixed socio-spatial
arrangements: girls standing in line with girls and boys co-located with
other boys. In order for the activity to progress, students had to exit
these configurations: one of the first identified endeavours was
"crossing to the other side" in order to negotiate a new group
An interesting case emerged with a boy and a girl not able to
collaborate even though the overall activity progress depended on it.
Since the face-to-face negotiation was out of question for them, they
relied on the technological layer to send out group invitations. It
seems the technological medium facilitated to help them overcome their
pre-established personal preferences.
In some cases in which the technological support was not adequate,
social scaffolding came into play. Students encouraged each other to
form new groups both verbally (giving explanations on why to go to
another group) and physically (gently pushing their peers towards the
potential partner). At times, social collaborative scaffolding was
powerful enough to overcome personal preferences for group membership.
In contrast to overcoming personal preferences in achieving both
individual and group goals, some students built on top of their personal
relationships and spontaneously offered help to their colleagues. After
a group of two girls was created based on personal preferences, they
together decided one of them should accept a new group invitation. After
their group was dismantled, the girl left alone was offered some help in
identifying her new mates.
In the process of dealing with impasses and employing and testing
the new strategies, the students provided peer instruction to help each
other. For example, they had to convince their peers to adopt new
strategies. One student identified that two fractions (2/4 and 1/2) can
be merged in order to form a whole. In order to convince his colleague,
he used this simple explanation strategy: "You have to increase
your fraction!" Although the choice of words was not appropriate
(one might understand it as to search for a larger fraction/number), the
student later clarified his advice by pointing out that 1/2 equals 2/4.
Towards a Generic Model for Collaborative Scaffolding in mCSCL
Through the conducted trials several sources of collaborative
scaffolding were identified: technological, teacher and social
scaffolding. All the three components are the sources for collaborative
rules which structure student participation in the activity both in the
sense of social interactions and task completion. Technological
scaffolding provides technology-embedded structures or rules for sending
and receiving messages through the handhelds. It relies on a specific
rule structure and their interconnection, and is triggered via the user
interfaces transmitting the messages. Social scaffolding, on the other
hand, builds on top of collaborative rules predefined by the teacher but
draws from the emergent collaborative practices such as peer
instruction, sharing through discourse, and mediation. The teacher
scaffolding provides contextual assistance supplementing both
technological and social scaffolding but mainly builds on top of the
existing individual and collective group competence. The teacher
scaffolding consists of teachers stepping into the activity at critical
points (e.g. students cannot move from one group configuration to the
other) in order to facilitate the activity progress. The teacher
typically starts a discussion about the problem students have, and try
leading them to a possible solution. In the process, teachers can
combine technological and social scaffolding thereby delegating some
work to the technological infrastructure or the students (Figure 19).
[FIGURE 19 OMITTED]
The collaborative scaffolding can be applied to different learning
content. Besides activities for learning fractions, collaborative
activities can take the form of composing sentences, or forming Chinese
characters or idioms by using the same set of social and technological
collaborative rules. In the software design, the rules and logic for a
particular domain are specified in the Generic Content Rules and Logic
interface (Figure 20). The system looks at any mobile learning content
as the sequence of content elements that can be combined in a sensible
unit, and distributes the elements (either generated automatically or as
provided by the teacher) to students.
The content specific rules are separately defined for each mobile
learning application. The fractions activity of FAO comes with rules
which define answers to questions such as: How to combine fractions (by
summing or some other operations)? What makes a whole or a solution? How
to generate fractions prior to distributing them in order to have
feasible local and global group goals? How to introduce complexity when
generating fractions (such as having larger denominators)?
With a collaborative activity for the composing sentences, the
basic content elements assigned to and manipulated by the students could
be words and phrases. The rules and logic would need to deal with the
following issues: How to combine words or phrases to form sentences? How
to obtain or generate words and phrases prior to distributing them to
students? How to check the validity of a constructed sentence in case
there are more feasible solutions that the teacher predicted?
With a collaborative activity for forming Chinese characters, the
basic content elements are radicals which are arranged spatially in
correct ways to form legitimate Chinese characters. The rules and logic
would need to deal with the following issues: What are different
graphical layouts of Chinese characters? How to check whether a
combination of Chinese characters produces a valid character? How to
check the semantics in case there are more feasible solutions that the
teacher predicted? Figure 20 shows our model for designing a generic
collaborative software for supporting the design of different
A feature is required for the teacher to be able to specify
activity parameters that directly impact the complexity of the activity,
and the possibilities for collaboration in the activity. For FAO, the
teacher provides parameters which determine whether the visual pie-chart
representation should be displayed alongside with the mathematical
notation of fraction, which denominators are allowed to appear in the
game, whether to show fractions subdivision etc. All of these determine
the difficulty level of the activity and the level of scaffolding the
students receive from the technology. In the sentence composition
activity, the teacher inputs the text and specifies the way it should be
distributed to the students. The teacher can choose to distribute a word
per student or to decompose sentences into phrases. In the Chinese
character activity, the teacher defines the set of Chinese characters or
radicals to be made available to students, and therefore indirectly
determines the range of different characters that can be composed.
[FIGURE 20 OMITTED]
It is not only the use of different content that makes the system
generic. Collaboration rules that utilize the content are generic as
well, allowing users to collaborate around different content bits (e.g.
fractions vs. Chinese letters). Generic are the communication mechanisms
as well, allowing the transfer of messages aimed at different content
The paper presented the design of a collaborative activity of
learning fractions with handheld computers and the findings of some
preliminary trials. Primary three students used handheld devices and
specially designed software to participate in a collaborative effort of
achieving local goal of forming groups with wholes and a common global
group goal. The activity as supported with collaborative scaffolding
consists of three main scaffolding sources: technological, social and
the teacher. Technology provides scaffolding in the sense of both
generic and context- specific rules and logic, while the teacher acts as
facilitator and helped the students in dealing with impasses. Social
scaffolding is encouraged in order to increase student interaction and
In our trials, students were able to come up with some ad-hoc
strategies of doing the activity and solving the problem, some of which
inevitably ended with impasses which had to be resolved with
collaborative scaffolding. Students were able to modify their initially
chosen strategies and realized the importance of achieving the global
goal besides their group goal, therefore learning how to collaborate
with these interdependencies.
We feel it was the interplay of technological, teacher and social
scaffolding which contributed to the overall progress of the activity.
The technological and social scaffolding were interchangeable depending
on the personal preferences of the students. Students armed with good
communication and negotiation skills relied more on the social
scaffolding, while more introverted students used the device as a medium
of carrying out actions that would otherwise probably never be
externalized. It was the technological scaffolding that made the
activity progress easier further advancing student problem solving
skills. Instead of personally checking other students' fractions,
students could refer to their devices and browse the corresponding
lists. Furthermore, students were able to switch between different kinds
of problem presentation and see their group artifact at anytime. The
teacher scaffolding when introduced at critical moments bridged the gaps
neither technological nor social scaffolding could therefore preserving
the momentum of the activity.
Building on this specific application of a fractions activity, we
propose a generic model for collaborative scaffolding in mCSCL that
enables the design of collaborative learning scenarios for handheld
computers in different domains such as sentence or character
construction in language learning. The characteristics of our
collaborative activities include interdependency on other students to
form a group solution, agency in students to accept or reject
invitations to join groups, reliance on collaborative skills to find
collaborative partners, emergent groups instead of fixed groups, facing
the tension between meeting a group goal vs. meeting the global goal,
and willingness to backtrack group solutions in order to seek a global
In our trials, we faced a host of issues ranging from classroom
management to technical glitches. In the trials with large groups (whole
classes of 40), the students typically exhibited the strategy of
randomly sending out invitations therefore checking each other's
progress (they had to wait a long time for each other's reply). In
one particular case, as the waiting time between the steps in the
activity went too long, the progress of the activity was disrupted. This
leads us to a new cycle of system and user interface re-design in which
students do not rely so much on the initially chosen request-response
design paradigm, but rather choose from a set of available group
configuration publicly displayed on the common shared screen.
In our approach, we have chosen the 3G network connection as the
means of exchanging system messages triggered by users. We advocate this
approach due to several factors: connection stability, signal coverage
and the decreasing cost of such network connectivity. It is our belief
that this presents a significant advantage over the free WiFi
connectivity and opens up possibilities for activity and system
extensions to outside of classroom boundaries.
In addition to the fractions activity presented in this paper, we
have conducted a series of trials including Chinese character learning
and plan for another full-fledged semester-long study dealing with the
issues of regular lecture integration. With the redesigned technology
and a slightly adjusted research design, we hope to more thoroughly
explore the impact of this technological innovation in regular classroom
This paper is based on work supported by the Learning Sciences Lab
and a grant from the National Research Foundation, Singapore (Grant #:
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Ivica Boticki, Chee-Kit Looi (1) and Lung-Hsiang Wong (1)
University of Zagreb, Croatia // (1) National Institute of
Education, Singapore // firstname.lastname@example.org // email@example.com,