Collaborative learning in an educational robotics environment

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<ul><li><p>Collaborative learning in an educational roboticsenvironment</p><p>Brigitte Denis*, Sylviane Hubert</p><p>Service de Technologie de lEducation, Centre de Recherche sur lInstrumentation en Formation</p><p>et Apprentissage, Universite de Lie`ge au Sart-Tilman,</p><p>Bat. B32, 4000 Lie`ge, Belgium</p><p>Abstract</p><p>Learning to collaborate is an important educational goal. The concept of collaborative</p><p>learning is dierently dened by several authors. Problem solving and problem-based learningare also important in our educational framework. We shall situate and clarify here theinstructional design concepts used in an educational setting based on a collaborative and</p><p>problem based learning environment applied to educational robotics. Educational roboticsactivities are developed at several school levels (primary, secondary) and in adults trainingcontexts. The instructional design of such learning activities is based on a constructivist</p><p>approach of learning. Their educational objectives are varied. In our approach, the goal is notonly that the learners acquire specic skills (e.g. knowledge on electricity, electronics, robot-ics. . .), but also and mainly demultiplicative, strategic and dynamic skills. The methodologyfocuses on collaboration to design and develop common projects and on problem solving</p><p>skills development. The pupils work in small groups (24). In the reported research, somelearners interactions have been observed during the activity in a primary school with anobservation grid. The analysis of the verbalisations between the learners and their actions on</p><p>the computers, and the robotics materials coming from those observations oer the opportu-nity to study the way the learners are collaborating. # 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rightsreserved.</p><p>Keywords: Constructivism; Collaboration; Educational robotics; Evaluation; Educational technology;</p><p>Problem based learning</p><p>Computers in Human Behavior 17 (2001) 465480</p><p>www.elsevier.com/locate/comphumbeh</p><p>0747-5632/01/$ - see front matter # 2001 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.PI I : S0747-5632(01 )00018 -8</p><p>* Corresponding author. Tel.: +32-4-366-20-72; fax: +32-4-366-29-53.</p><p>E-mail address: b.denis@ulg.ac.be (B. Denis).</p></li><li><p>1. Introduction</p><p>This paper focuses on an activity based on collaborative and problem-basedlearning called educational robotics. Its instructional design implies the choice ofsome teaching and learning methods, of classroom management parameters, of toolsto be used (e.g. computers, robotics material, reference guides, etc.) to reach deter-mined objectives. The regulation of such activity needs the use of evaluation tools.Here they consist in observation grids that permit coding of social interactionsbetween peers and actions on the didactic materials.</p><p>2. Context: the educational robotics framework</p><p>Educational robotics (ER) consists in building and programming small robots andconducting them with the help of computer programs that have to be built by thelearners themselves. Dierent approaches are observed in educational roboticsapplications (Denis, 1993a; Denis &amp; Baron, 1993). They aim to develop somelearners competencies such as problem solving strategies, the formalisation ofthought, the socialisation as well as the acquisition of various concepts. In fouremerging trends from the ER use several dierences related to their elds of applicationcan be observed (Denis &amp; Baron, 1993):</p><p>1. a technocentric approach aimed at the development of technical situationsoften close to the industrial world (Delannoy, 1993; Nicoud, 1993; Tauriac,1993),</p><p>2. an approach based on the creation and exploration of microworlds based on thelearners project (Denis, 1993; Leroux, 1997; Limbos, 1993; Morato, 1993;Napierala et al., 1993; Sougne, 1993; Vivet, 1993; Papert, 1984),</p><p>3. an approach based on the theory of the cognitive spectacles or computer assistedexperimentation, connected to scientic contents (Nonnon, 1986; Cervera &amp;Nonnon, 1993; Girouard &amp; Nonnon, 1997; Hudon &amp; Nonnon, 1993;Macherez, 1993; Marchand, 1993; Nonnon, 1993; Rellier &amp; Sourdillat, 1993),</p><p>4. a programming or algorithmic approach (Duchateau, 1993).</p><p>Among those approaches, the specic objectives and the methodologies are var-ied, even if the epistemological bases of the activities are all based on an interac-tionist constructivism. The interdisciplinary aspect of this activity has also beenemphasised. In fact, it is dicult to classify educational robotics within one givendiscipline since projects often vary, switching from one kind of approach to anotherone.In addition, the target public is also varied, since ER addresses learners from ele-</p><p>mentary school to adults training.The approach we have adopted in our study is the second one: exploration and</p><p>creation of microworlds. Here, the learners task is complex and based on a mean-ingful project shared by the two peers involved in it. This groupwork should con-tribute to the learners motivation throughout the learning activity.</p><p>466 B. Denis, S. Hubert / Computers in Human Behavior 17 (2001) 465480</p></li><li><p>3. Learning objectives and learning/teaching paradigms</p><p>Two models, a four level architecture of competencies and the six learning/teachingparadigms help to analyse and characterise the educational robotics activities (Fig. 1).</p><p>3.1. The architecture of competencies</p><p>Regardless of the approaches (out of the four options), the ER learning objectivesmentioned earlier can also be categorised referring to Leclercqs (1987) model of thearchitecture of competencies. He suggested that four types of competencies shouldbe considered:</p><p>Levels of architecture of competencies E.R. objectivesDynamic</p><p>The dynamic competencies are related to (Personal) project.MOTIVATION, i.e. the pleasure a personexperiences in doing things, in learningspecic, demultiplicative or strategiccompetencies. This level is the most vulnerable:it can be easily aected. It is also the mostpenetrating, i.e. the motor that drives the restwhen facing a new domain which the learnerhas to enter. Those competencies correspond tothe learners initiative, will, pleasure anddispleasure, perseverance, rigor, . . .includingones own image as a person being able andmotivated to learn.</p><p>Meaningful activity.</p><p>StrategicThe strategic competencies are concernedwith METACOGNITION, i.e. knowingoneself (as a learner, as an actor, etc.), onesweaknesses and ones talents, and developingstrategies to adapt to complex situations (for</p><p>Problem solving andformalisation of thought:structuring the problem,denition and test ofhypotheses, conclusions, . . .</p><p>Fig. 1. Architecture of competencies (Leclercq, 1987).</p><p>B. Denis, S. Hubert / Computers in Human Behavior 17 (2001) 465480 467</p></li><li><p>instance to choose which demultiplicativecompetency to use for learning in givencircumstances). They concern planning (e.g.how much time will it take me to master agiven subject, to do a specic work), problemsolving (e.g. analysis and structuring the problem,decision making, . . .), communication andcooperation (how much and when do I needothers? in which respect?) and self estimation ofknowledge (to know ones degree of expertise ina domain: what do I know? what do I not know?).</p><p>Socialisation: collaboration,socio-cognitive conicts, . . .</p><p>DemultiplicativeThe demultiplicative competencies (LEARNINGTOOLS) enable the learner to get information byhim/herself and acquire more speciccompetencies: reading, listening, notes taking,communicating, interviewing, using the computerto consult a database or to produce texts,referring to guides, etc.</p><p>Reading, listening, notestaking, consultation ofreference guides, usingthe computer.</p><p>SpecicThe specic competencies (ELEMENTS OFCOGNITION skills) deal with specic contents(e.g. geography, history, physics, vocabulary ofa language, . . .) and are hardly transferable.These specic competencies are innite and ahuman being can (and has to) know only someof them.</p><p>Electronics components,types of electric circuits,programming instructions,production procedures,syntax of a givencomputer language, . . .</p><p>This four levels architecture of competencies model oers a useful conceptualframework which allows the learner to address important questions related to theobjectives and the methodology to choose: do we want the learners just to acquirespecic competencies or should they acquire strategic level skills?, etc.Several relationships between competencies and educational robotics approaches</p><p>have been described in Denis and Hubert (1999). We shall hereafter just focus onstrategic ones since they deal with abilities such as collaborating and interacting witheach other and to some aspects of problem solving.</p><p>3.2. Six learning/teaching paradigms</p><p>Like other educational situations, educational robotics activities can be describedand analysed referring to the six teaching and learning paradigms model (Denis &amp;Leclercq, 1994; Leclercq &amp; Denis, 1998; Fig. 2). These paradigms imply very dier-ent kinds of interactions between trainers and learners and the proportion ofthe learners and trainers initiatives mostly depends on the chosen paradigms.</p><p>468 B. Denis, S. Hubert / Computers in Human Behavior 17 (2001) 465480</p></li><li><p>Moreover, according to the paradigm, the learner develops some particular compe-tencies (e.g. the paradigm of creation will develop more competencies such asdemultiplicative, strategic and dynamic ones than specic ones).Whatever the considered paradigm, we nd social interactions between peers and</p><p>between the trainer and the learners. Those interactions intervene as learning cat-alysts. Nevertheless, we may consider that actual collaborative learning situationswill mostly appear in the three paradigms that allows more learners self-initiative(creation, experimentation, exploration) than the others.For us, our approach, which is based on microworlds, will essentially consider</p><p>creation, that will also lead the learner to develop behaviours linked to exploration andexperimentation, but always referring to learners personal projects. Nevertheless, thatdoes not imply that a trainer will always base the activity only on creation. He/she candecide that the learner will have the initiative to dene and realise a project (build therobots and program them), but at some moments provide a synthesis about the newnotions encountered and enrich them with new concepts (transmission/reception).</p><p>Learning/teaching paradigms ER objectivesCreation Two facets of creation of an educational robotics</p><p>activity are pointed here. One refers to thebuilding of the robot, and, the other, to thewriting of a program.</p><p>Programming a computer with a given languagecan always be considered as creation since thelearner can choose the movements the robot willexecute. When the general design is dened by thetrainer (Nicoud, 1993; Vivet, 1993) or by an otherlearner, the creativity relies on the way to buildthe robot and the program, but not in theproject choice.</p><p>Fig. 2. Six learning/teaching paradigms (Leclercq &amp; Denis, 1998).</p><p>B. Denis, S. Hubert / Computers in Human Behavior 17 (2001) 465480 469</p></li><li><p>Exploration To do this, the learners can explore some didacticmaterials (e.g. reference guides, help on line, . . .).</p><p>We could also consider the elaboration of theoriesby the learners. But it is a common core betweenthe dierent approaches of the educational roboticssince it is based on constructivism: inside theactivity, the learners have the opportunity toexperiment by trial and error (experimentation) andbuild their process and personal theories about thecurrent topic. How they create those theories andrepresentations are and have to be studied byresearchers (Limbos, 1993).</p><p>Experimentation The creation of original robots mainly depends onthe exibility of the materials. For instance, in thecomputer assisted experimentation or cognitivespectacles approach, the learner has a standardmaterial that will allow him/her to make his/herown experiments on a specic topic [e.g. build amodel about how a battery functions (Marchand,1993), about refrigeration systems (Hudon &amp;Nonnon, 1993), breathing metabolism (Rellier &amp;Sourdillat, 1993), . . .].</p><p>Imitation But, the learners could also build their robot orautomate from their imagination with salvage ofwaste products (of Saldano) or with materialssuch as kits sold by Fischertechnik1, Lego1,Inventa1, . . . even if those societies also providewith their materials some guidelines to build therobots. If those guides are used, it leads to theapplication of paradigms such as imitation(watching a video or observing a model) andtransmission/reception (reading to guidelines).Emerging activities based on virtual robotics alsoappear now; they refer to several approaches(Meurice de Dormale, 1997; Nonnon, 1997).</p><p>Reception</p><p>4. A collaborative problem based learning</p><p>The learning activity proposed here is based upon two main methodologicalprinciples: problem based and collaborative learning.</p><p>470 B. Denis, S. Hubert / Computers in Human Behavior 17 (2001) 465480</p></li><li><p>4.1. Problem based learning</p><p>Problem based learning (PBL) is based on a constuctivist approach of learning:the learner is at the centre and builds his/her knowledge. PBL has some commonfeatures with the pedagogy of the project (cf. Freinet, Le Grain), even if some-times the project is given by the tutor and not especially a learners personal project.PBL deeply implies the learners in the learning/training process since he/she (orthe group) has to dene a strategy to solve the proposed problem (cf. Barrows &amp;Tamblyn, 1977; EARLI Instructional design, 1998; Leclercq &amp; Van Der Vleuten,1998).Sometimes, the teacher suggests the project. Dening and managing such problem-</p><p>solving situations based on personal project is not very easy for the trainer and thelearners. In fact, those educational practices are not often developed among theteachers and they prefer to adopt a constructivist methodology. With the learnersinvolved in a problem-solving situation, one has mainly to try to adopt teaching andlearning paradigms such as exploration, experimentation and creation (Leclercq &amp;Denis, 1998).Hubert &amp; Denis (1998, p. 33) dene a problem situation or challenge as</p><p>follows:</p><p>1. a desequilibrating situation, an obstacle;2. an enigma (whose solution is not a priori known);3. a problem that answers a need;4. a problem that is signicant for the learner;5. a problem whose complexity, duration and length match with the learners</p><p>capacities and availability;6. a problem that can support various topics (even parallel) in the classroom; and7. the opportunity to seek for information coming from dierent sources.</p><p>This list is not exhaustive. It just helps to determine if a proposed situation is areal problem solving one. All the criteria do not have to be present. Nevertheless,some of them are more fundamental than others. That is the case for the criteria 1 5.This approach has been used in secondary schools to manage activities linked to</p><p>the course of Education par la technologie (Hubert &amp; Denis, 1998) and in a researchon the pedagogical uses of Internet (Hubert, Denis, Detroz, &amp; Demily, 2000).In the pres...</p></li></ul>

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