Social Constructivism: Collaborative Learning

* Content adapted from Maddux, C. D., Johnson, D. L., & Willis, J. W.  (1997).  Educational computing: Learning with tomorrow's technologies.  Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

In a Vygotskian classroom (, learning is promoted through collaboration -- collaboration among students, and between students and teacher. From a social constructionist perspective as students share background knowledge and participate in the give and take of collaborative and cooperative activities they are actually negotiating meaning. They are building knowledge, not as individuals, but as a group. People who surround the individual student, and the culture within which that person lives, greatly affect the way he or she makes sense of the world. In today's classroom, computer-based technology can provide many tools that support sharing, negotiating, and constructing knowledge.

The two examples below are both Web sites that describe interesting collaborative learning projects. You can read the brief explanation provided here or click on the links to go to the sites for more detailed information.


A Collaborative Workshop Project At Hillside Elementary School

This web side describes a collaborative workshop at Hillside Elementary School. Different grade levels have different topics to work on they write about the topic using writing, drawing and many different formats. For example, the sixth graders took on the topic of inventors, the fifth graders, selected states, the fourth graders wrote about presidents, and the third graders picked seasons.

For grade one, during the 94-95 school year students created a character named Jessie who spent a day in a first grade classroom at Hillside Elementary School. The students welcome you to watch their movie or read their book about Jessie's day. The purpose for this project was for the students to take what they learned about characters and character development, and create a new character of their own. After talking about characters and how they are created and used in stories the class brainstormed what they wanted their character to be like. They used a basic character sketch web as shown below. To create the web students told the teacher about the character and he drew the web and wrote in character traits.


The students then narrowed their choices down to create their character by voting. The next step was to make a visual of Jessie. So, from the ideas stated in the character sketch the students all drew what they thought the character looked like. Again, by voting, the class chose one image to represent their class.

After selecting the picture of their character, the students the took part of the day to draw. They drew pictures representing different parts of the day. The pictures of Jessie were then put in order to show a typical first grade day at Hillside Elementary. A sound byte from each child was added to the electronic "picture" composition and the teacher created a "movie" of the series of pictures.

In "What We Would Like You To Do" section, the first graders challenge the visitors, after viewing their collaborative works, to take one step further:

"Now that we have created "Jessie" ( Something unique about our character is it is not a specific sex. It is an it) we would like you to invite Jessie into your classroom and do something similar to our project.

Don't change the Character's looks, but show us what a typical day is like in your classroom at your school.

If you wish to participate or correspond you can contact Chad Palmquist. We hope you've enjoyed our project and hope that you take it one step further."

During the 95-96 school year the first grade students also created their own opposite book. Each student drew up a picture to demonstrate different examples of opposite. For example, a girl called Abby is trying to explain the idea of brother and sister with the following graphic. The on-line opposite book includes more than twenty children's illustrations.

If you would like to go to the Hillside Elementary School site for more information, please click: Hillside (

Where on the Globe is Roger: The Peace Pal Project

This MCI sponsored Word Wide Web project is an example of collaborative learning.

Roger Williams, a former United States Marine Corps combat pilot and retired airline pilot, is in the midst of realizing a long-standing dream of driving around the world. He has traveled the entire world and met thousands of children from different countries. Through his e-mail dispatches, for the first time many students were introduced to cultures far different from their own. They realize that each place Roger visited had its own style of dress and food, its own way of going to school and even looking at life.

Classes around the world are encouraged to submit a class biography which is sent to all participants. Through the biography, classes learn about each other. The group can communicate directly with any of the classes.

As Roger's travels unfold, the project suggests additional project activities and ideas to supplement and enhance learner participation in this project.

This project will be a great way to get classroom students to look with new eyes at distant lands, and to learn more about their geography, customs, way of life. Students will be eager readers when Roger's dispatches arrive. This project also leads to many opportunities to make new acquaintances and friendships which a creative teacher can use to great advantage in his or her classroom.


The Shipwrecks-to-Remember Project

The Web-based Shipwrecks to Remember Project has been created to allow the sharing of knowledge, resources, and activities collected and created by the students at Rosewood Elementary School in cooperation with members of the Columbus-America Discovery Group and other participating locations.

The Shipwrecks to Remember Project is an adventure that takes us back into history. The SS Central America was a steamship that sank in 1857 during a hurricane off the coast of the Carolinas. Many school students are participating in this adventure which shares the events of the sinking and also the discovery of the ship in 1990.

The project is sponsored by the Kidlink Network ( The project invites other students and teachers throughout the Kidlink organization to join with them in activities developed to stimulate research in all areas of the curriculum, based on the history of the sinking of the ship, the findings of the Columbus-America Discovery Group, and related literary and scientific topics. With its various international networking activities, Kidlink has united more than 37,000 children between the ages of 10 and 15 from over 71 nations.

Click here to view a sample of IRC (Internet Relay Chat) conversation

Through one of Kidlink's most popular activities, children and their teachers are united in topical discussions known as IRCs ( A chat may cover a wide breadth of subjects, from current events and politics to books and music. By accessing Kidlink chats, a user may join a conversation at any time, day or night, with children from across the globe.


Additional Information

What Should Collaborative Technology Be? A Perspective From Dewey and Situated Learning

This on-line article discusses issues of collaborative technology in the following sections: URL:

Collaborative Learning Enhances Critical Thinking

The term "collaborative learning" refers to an instruction method in which students work together in small groups toward a common goal. The students are responsible for one another's learning as well as their own. Thus, the success of one student helps other students to be successful. This web page suggests that the active exchange of ideas within small groups not only increases interest among the participants but also promotes critical thinking.


Using Technology to Build a Community of Learners

This web site discusses the ways telecommunications resources can be used to foster the creation of cooperative and collaborative learning communities that extend beyond the walls of a single classroom.


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