Collaborative Experience of Learning
Computers and the Collaborative Experience of Learning is the
a book by Charles Crook
This, and Crook's other writings, is dense with
The terms provide a language
to analyse the relations between human beings and
computers in education.
Crook is a psychologist, but the
he advocates ensures that the terms he uses treat society as a
On this page I will attempt to make the terms more accessible to
myself, and to others.
I will do this by using quotations from and paraphrases of Crook's
and connecting the technical terms with links to quotations that explain
them and/or to my efforts to explain them in a plainer English.
I will make most of the links internal to this page. Links to
other parts of the web site could be useful, but confusing if the user does
not know that the linked clicked goes outside my explanation of Crook's
vocabulary. The title bar will tell if you have left this page. You can use
the "Back" button to return.
Linked quotations from Charles Crook
- "It is useful to warn against
putting so much
faith in autonomous learning that the social context is neglected.
And it is useful to query
who might suggest that all learning must be
through social dialogue"
(Crook, C. 1994 p.62)
- "It is widely accepted that psychological theory had its greatest
education through the developmental work of
I ... make a contrast between the Piagetian `constructivist` approach
and ... cultural theory".
(Crook, C. 1994 p.57)
"The nature of cognitive development in Piaget's scheme of things is
attractively captured in the term 'constructivism': children are actively
'constructing' their understanding of the world." (Crook, C. 1994 p.58)
Cultural approach, Cultural psychology, Socio-cultural theory.
- "Theorists developing the
concept invite us to
exchanges more in terms of
A popular metaphor to capture what a collaboration might involve within
instructional settings is that of the 'scaffold'.
...We assume that the learner is orientated towards a goal..."
[and that?] "the goal would not be attainable without external aids and
support. [a scaffold]
The expert's presence serves to ensure such support and thereby creates
an occasion of collaboration.
Such encounters do not entail simple explanation or direct explanation:
they require more participation on the part of the novice and more
sensitivity on the part of the expert.
The encounter is a collaborative one requiring jointly coordinated
Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)
- "The zone of
development is defined as
'the distance between the actual developmental level as determined through
independent problem solving and the level of potential development as
determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in
with more capable
Vygotsky, L.S. 1978 p.86 quoted in
Kolb, D.A. 1984
p.133 and (in part)
Crook, C. 1994 p.49
Zone of interaction
is a phrase
Crook sometimes uses in place of zone of proximal development.
Crook does not explain the metaphor.
It could be used in the anatomical sense of the point at which a limb
is attached to the body, but it could also be used in the general sense of
next or nearest point of development.
The point at which legs are attached to the body is called proximal.
In the metaphor, the body would be society, the legs, the individual. The
point of proximal development is then, the difference between how far the
individual can develop on his/her own, and how far they can develop if
attached to society.
The metaphor only makes sense if one recognises that individual members
of society have a capacity for independent or autonomous learning that legs
do not have.
Crook says the term collaboration is central to the
approach in the same way that
computation is central to the cognitive tradition
and construction to the
tradition. (Crook, C. 1994 p.79)
is a phrase Crook
sometimes uses instead of collaboration.
For cultural theorists generally, collaboration appears to mean that
the 'tutor' provides a structure of support for learners who are already
aiming at achieving a goal, but one which is not obtainable without
external aids. The metaphor of the
to explain this.
Crook thinks that the scaffold metaphor is helpful, but limited:
- "For one thing, its static and rigid connotations fail to suggest a
real dynamic to joint activity as it is organised in this zone of
exactly how does the experts' presence in the zone of interaction serve
to create cognitive support?
I believe the active creation of socially shared understandings
(between expert and novice) is an important investment within such
...the sense in which such interventions may become useful - have
lasting impacts on understanding - might be pursude in terms of a further
(Crook, C. 1994 p.49)
Crook analyses the variety of different ways in which computers can be
part of the collaborative experience of learning.
He has chapters on:
The idea of working with a computer brings to mind a solitary
individual sitting at a keyboard working on a computer program. The program
could be a computer based learning program. Collaboration with
computers is the goal of making such programs "reproduce the social
character of a face-to-face tutorial dialogue".
(Crook, C. 1994 Chapter 4 and p. 119)
A software designer, therefore, would try to make the computer respond
to the learner with the intelligence (or otherwise!) of a human tutor.
By collaboration in relation to computers, Crook appears
to mean tutor-student interaction about computers, not
involving working at the computer, but supportive of work with a computer.
Discussing things about computer work in a lecture might be an example.
- "This is the...sense in which pupils are engaged in some activity
involving their teachers but where those teachers' contributions are more
indirect, or mediated, or deferred. That is, they make only intermittent
contact with the task or refer to it on occasions when it is not actually
in progress." (Crook, C. 1994 Chapter 5 and p.100)
Collaboration at computers refers to times when small groups
of learners work on the same computer based problem at the same time. Two
students helping one another with email software could be an example.
Collaboration around computers refers to learners working
together more informally than when a small group is working at a computer
on a common task. Crook says that "material environments will constrain and
facilitate a whole range of social interactions that can occur within
them". So, collaboration between students who happen to be individually
working on computers in the same room, may be encouraged or discouraged by
the room layout.
Collaboration through computers means collaborating through
networks, including the internet. It can range from straightforward
collaboration through email and the web, through to video conferencing and
the virtual classroom.
Crook says that our concept of collaboration has to include
circumstances in which collaboration is dislocated in time and when
participants are not co-present. This is a central feature of interacting
Crook then quotes Vygotsky:
proposes that all cognitive functions
are first experienced in the inter-mental plane before they exist on
the intra-mental plane.
That is, our private mental reflections arise from experiences that
have first been organised in the public forum of social interaction".
(Crook, C. 1994 p.50)
"An interpersonal process is transformed into an intrapersonal one.
Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice:
the social level, and later on the individual level;
people (interpsychological) and then inside the child
All the higher functions originate as actual
relationships between human individuals".
(Vygotsky, L.S. 1978 p.57 quoted
Crook, C. 1994 p.50)
computers: A University
"The key issue introduced in the last chapter...concerns how we may
resource the constructing of a shared object of understanding.
In many circumstances recognition of this 'object' will arise from a
common concern to make progress with some self-contained task (such as
writing a story, or scoring high on a number puzzle). The activity takes
place together, at the site of the problem.
However, in the configuration to be discussed in this section, the form
of a shared understanding may sometimes be less tightly related to some
such circumscribed problem. What it is that comes to be held in common -
that becomes a source of shared reference - is more a set of broader
So, I shall be partly interested here in how new technology can mediate
forms of activity that create communities of shared understanding.
Understandings that are held in common need not be exclusively relevant
to the short-term goals of working together on localised problems. There
are circumstances where mutual knowledge provides a general underpinning
relevant to a whole range of collaborative encounters: this arises in
situations where people are held together in communities that share a
common set of concerns - such as might sometimes arise within
(Crook, C. 1994 p.193)
Lev Semenovich Vygotsky (1896-1934) Soviet psychologist, studying human
learning, who used the concept
"zone of proximal development"
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collaboration around computers
zone of interaction
Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD)