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The Importance of a Collaborative Environment for

Computer-Based Education

Kori Inkpen, Kellogg Booth, Maria Klawe

Department of Computer Science
University of British Columbia
Vancouver, British Columbia, V6T 1Z4
Phone: (604)822-8990 E-mail: [email protected]

Rena Upitis

Faculty of Education
Queen's University
Kingston, Ontario, K7L 3N6

Cooperative behavior of students playing an educational computer game was investigated. The combination of gender and whether one or two computers were present significantly affected the level of achievement as measured by the number of puzzles completed in the game. Female/Female pairs playing on two computers, on average, completed less puzzles than any other pairs in any other condition. Differences were also observed for gender pairs sharing control of the mouse while playing on a single computer. Male/Male pairs had a higher number and percentage of refusals to give up control of the mouse.

Human-computer interaction, Computer-supported cooperative work, Computer-supported cooperative learning, Collaboration, Education, Gender, Games.

This paper examines computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW) issues in an educational domain. Computersupported cooperative learning (CSCL) is a new branch of research combining research from CSCW and education.

We are interested in how computers can be used in educational settings and whether collaborative use of computers is appropriate. Our study is designed as a first step in a larger project investigating how electronic game technology can be used to stimulate interest in math and science among pre-teenage students.

Many stereotypes are reported in the research and popular literatures concerning electronic games and education.

Among these stereotypes are gender differences (girls play less than boys), social consequences (game players don't develop social skills), and educational value (games are mindless entertainment).

Our study examined a number of factors concerned with how school-age children interact with electronic games in a classroom-like environment: isolated play vs. group play; a single shared computer vs. one computer per student; and gender and gender pairings (Figure 1). A somewhat surprising result, perhaps contrary to stereotypes, was that girls appear to perform better when sharing a single computer or when working in isolation than they do when they have a dedicated computer of their own in a collaborative environment. This is true whether they share with other girls or with boys.

After a discussion of how electronic games offer a unique collaborative environment for computer-based education, we summarize previous research on cooperative learningand then describe our own study, the results we obtained, and the conclusions we have drawn thus far.

Research on computer-based learning is an important topic in the field of CSCW because of three factors. First, there is a growing emphasis on cooperative learning in the schools. Second, computer learning environments can play a key role in support of learning. Third, issues in CSCL typify many concerns in CSCW and hence study of CSCL can benefit research in all areas of CSCW. In this section we briefly discuss these topics further.