Stephen W. Draper
Department of Psychology
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ U.K.
WWW URL: http://www.psy.gla.ac.uk/~steve
With Julian Newman and many others, I am part of
the MANTCHI project.
looking at collaborative teaching, particularly tutorials as opposed to primary
exposition, between institutions over the internet in the subject area of HCI.
The theoretical idea behind the project is to use Answer Garden type software
to support "vicarious learning" or "learning by onlooking": that is, the idea
that students, like lurkers on an email discussion group, might benefit from
being a silent audience to others' learning dialogues. My own current list of
the features of the MANTCHI project is:
You can find more on all these things through links on my web page.
I argue this at greater length for CAL in Draper (in press). I would expect it to apply to CSCW: technology-led applications will not bring much educational benefit, only extra costs.
This success is probably due to at least the following factors. Students could meditate and take time to formulate contributions and responses, rather than having to think and articulate them on the spot in "real time". The tutor mediating the email seminars, whose skill was a crucial factor, applied a marking scheme that rewarded all contributions with bigger rewards for better contributions (or conversely, could be thought of as penalising silence). It would not be practicable to apply this reward scheme in a face to face seminar. Thus while the technology was very simple, it could overcome crucial problems in the traditional delivery that it replaced. While to some extent these advantages would apply as an alternative to any use of face to face seminars, this department has, as noted, a particularly unpromising situation for fostering relaxed discussion: so the software solution matched this case better than it might others.
As I understand it, although it is moderately helpful for learning (particularly learning facts rather than complex concepts) to listen to someone, more learning occurs when you talk rather than listen: the effort of re-organising your thoughts in order to speak or write causes learning. Thus a powerful technique in cooperative learning is teachback, where one learner tries to teach another. The most learning (although also the most effort) occurs for the "teacher" rather than the "pupil". Thus writing this section will probably be of most use to me, the writer, although of course I hope it will be of some use to some to you, the readers.
However it needs skillful (human) organisation for this to occur for several reasons: firstly many learners do not believe that they will learn most from trying to tell others, but instead have a naive theory that listening will cause them to learn. Secondly, it is important to have a willing audience. Thus I have not written these words before, because I have not had this audience before: it took ECSCW97 to provide the occasion for us to find each other, and I looked at most of your position papers before adding this section which I think may connect with some of your interests. For students, they need to know that other students will be a willing audience (which they often won't be without teaching intervention, because other students believe they can only learn by listening to teachers). The skills of a good discussion facilitator are to get students to contribute, partly by convincing them it is worth their effort, partly by making them feel they have a willing audience for their contributions. Neither usually happens spontaneously.
Almost always people can hear or read and understand a lot faster than they can organise and utter sentences. It is thus quite surprising that it is worthwhile for people to discuss things face to face, as most of the time is wasted with several people waiting for the speaker to produce sentences; although perhaps that is why most people find that less effort than reading. This of course provides one of the great advantages of technology: asynchronous communication, where receivers do not have to waste time waiting for the slow production of contributions but can do other things, or produce their own messages. Thus asynchronous communication is an advantage in overcoming one great natural problem (difference in generation and reception speeds of human language). However it makes worse the other issue of persuading learners they have an interested audience. This already requires special skills in a human tutor, but most of these face to face skills do not work with asynchronous communication. In fact, it seems likely they do not even work over synchronous video links. In email (or BCSCW or whatever) we need the equivalent of lots of looking the speaker in the eye to show interest, nodding, saying "Uh huh", etc.etc.; we need very fast ways of transmitting a message to say "yes, that's interesting, what do the rest of you think?", which with email not only takes far longer to send than it does to say it, but then clutters up the list of messages where it is clearly much less important than the messages with real topic content.
As an evaluator, this divergence of opinion is the first good example I have experienced, where it seemed important to report on 3 different views: learners, teachers, and evaluators. Thinking about it, I can also think of a few other occasions that felt bad, yet resulted in learning gains.
There is an earlier line of work in psychology. The first use of the word
"vicarious" may have been by Muenzinger (1938) who used the phrase "vicarious
trial and error" to refer to animals doing thought experiments (or a kind of
mental modelling) as an alternative to repeating actual actions and their
consequences while learning a contingency.
The first use of "vicarious learning" may have been by Berger (1961) who used the phrase to refer to learning by observing other's actions and their consequences, unlike Muenzinger's usage. This topic (though not the term "vicarious") goes back at least to Thorndike (1898). In this usage the adjective "vicarious" is applied to a number of related terms as in Berger's own title "Incidental learning and vicarious reinforcement". This line of work went on from animal studies to social psychology studies of humans, often associated with the name of Bandura, and with related terms such as observational learning and social learning.
In such situations of learning through observing others, the onlooker might
note and learn:
In practice all of these can and do occur at times. People can sometimes learn actions by observing them (a: learning by imitation), and learn contingencies (d: what rewards and punishments follow certain actions): most judicial punishment has this possibility as a main justification (deterrence: "as an example to others"). When we see people all looking in one direction, for instance up to the sky, then we too look in that direction (e). However it seems clear this is pretty limited: there are many things we can see (e.g. expert sport, craftsmanship) which we can't then reproduce. And we often see people enjoying themselves without believing we would enjoy that. Still, perhaps most of what we learn is that there is something to try out (or avoid) for ourselves; but exactly what it is (what we should do) and whether we ourselves would enjoy (or hate) it has to wait for that personal experimentation. In other words, in these cases of social and observational learning it seems likely that it is attention that is the main direct learning content: other learning may then later follow as a consequence if the change in attention leads to other learning actions. Thus, as some of the social psychology work suggests, vicarious learning as an instructional method suffers from the fact that what is learned by onlookers depends upon them and what they attend to, which is often not what the instructor intended. (This is consistent with a reasonable interpretation of constructivism: that other people are very important for directing our learning by directing our attention, yet that is only the first step, and personal action and experience must then follow for learning to occur.)
In higher education, the distinctive mode is really learning by overhearing or looking on, rather than "vicarious" or "social". It is social, but so is a learner reading a book in solitude. That is, the basic enterprise of HE is that of the social transmission of cultural knowledge: of social learning as opposed to discovery learning, so we can't distinguish one mode as "social". Similarly all HE learning is vicarious in that it is not primarily through personal experience: the whole enterprise of science and scholarship is about reporting other people's experience / experiments and learning from them.
Instead to distinguish a special mode where in HE learners benefit from being an audience to others' learning, we need to look at cases where the learner is an onlooker of an event concerned with learning, as opposed to playing one of the main two roles (teacher, and learner being addressed by the teacher). Examples are hearing question and answer between another learner and the teacher; observing the teacher solve a new problem; sitting in on the project supervison of another student. If one learner is witness to a dialogue between a teacher and another learner, do they benefit? This is as opposed to a) being addressed by the teacher themselves; b) speaking or writing themselves; c) peer interaction i.e. personal interaction with another learner.
Christine Howe and Andy seem to have found (in their studies of peer interaction promoting conceptual learning) that groups of 4 work as well as pairs; and also looked at the dialogue analysis and who spoke most; and found from this that listening without talking is as powerful a way to benefit from "dialogue". It must be that processing other angles/ views is the key added value.
Margaret Brown told me that a student in one of my HCI labs had in fact
It is interesting to note the common formats for presenting learning material on TV. One type of documentary shows illustrative material while giving a direct exposition to the viewer on the sound track. Another has a presenter talking to camera (directly to the viewer), like a lecturer. Other popular formats, however, are essentially LBO in nature: the audience observes a dialogue between people (e.g. presenter and guest, interviewer and interviewee) neither of whom addresses the audience directly. Whether on news programmes, documentaries, or educational programmes, LBO is about as common and widely accepted as direct instruction.
Although the central type of LBO in HE is being an audience for a dialogue with a teacher, perhaps because of the centrality of dialogue in HE, it is interesting to ponder another case. Consider observing a chess match. Most would probably agree that witnessing chess matches can be a useful learning experience for chess players. Dialogue plays no role in chess. On the basis of superficial definitions, this would make it an example of the second type of vicarious learning. But although actions (moves) and contingencies (pieces being taken, who won) are there to be observed, that is probably not the important kind of learning. It is the thinking stimulated in the onlooker by the positions and the moves, even though that thinking is probably rather different from that of the participants. This is not "vicarious" (in the sense of learning what the actor is learning) because the onlooker may well not be looking at consequences but at the protagonists' choice of actions.
This is one prototype for the argument that onlooking may have some special advantages, benefits greater in some respects than those of participating. McKendree et al. (1997) argue that listening without participating in a dialogue may free you to do more and different processing: in other words, the social and processing pressures of participation may in some respects act to reduce learning.
In fact, there are (as Laurillard says) two basic kinds of learning content:
learning from one's own experience, and learning public, formal descriptions.
Each of these has a corresponding kind of LBO. I regard "onlooking" as a more
accurate description than "vicarious", as the onlooker may in fact learn
something somewhat different from the participant: whether attention in
learning from action or inferences and relationships in learning from others'
dialogue. Both kinds of learning, and both kinds of LBO, occur and have some
importance in HE; but learning public descriptions is what makes HE different
from other learning, is what humans do that animals don't, is ultimately the
focus and test of learning in HE.
In education, LBO may be seen as surprising because it is learning by non-activity, non-participation; and even more surprising because there may be special advantages (e.g. don't need to have the cognitive load of doing dialogue yourself.) that allow it to offer benefits not offered by active learning.
The second type of content is related: it is information about the status of other information. Some things are facts in the sense that everyone agrees, others are "usually thought to be", others "one theory is" etc. In other words, every fact and theory rests on something, and knowing what those grounds are, and the degree of support from the community for that view is part of the knowledge.
Draper, S.W. (in press) "Niche-based success in CAL" Computers and Education [WWW document]. URL http://www.psy.gla.ac.uk/~steve/niche.html
Duffy,C., Arnold,S. & Henderson,F. (1995) "NetSem - electrifying undergraduate seminars" Active Learning, no.2, CTISS Publications, University of Oxford (June 1995). Reprinted in Musicus (CTI Centre for Music), Vol. 4, June 1995.
McKendree,J., Stenning,K., Mayes,J.T., Lee,J., & Cox,R.. (1997) "Why observing a dialogue may benefit learning: The vicarious learner" Proc PEG'97 [WWW document]. URL http://www.cogsci.ed.ac.uk/hcrc/wgs/graphics/vicar/VicarPapers/PEG97.RTF