Light et al (1987) used a computer based program of the towers of Hanoi. This involved rings being moved from one peg to another. The groups were same sex pairs or individuals. The results were unexpected and showed that in that test there was no a significant difference in those who worked together and those who worked alone. Previously a non- computerised version of the study had resulted that the paired group did significantly better. (Light and Glachan, 1985). The reasons behind the unexpected results were found to be that some of the children had taken a dominant role within the pair and the other had not interacted at all.
Blaye (1988) found that working in pairs or groups did improve individual progress. He made sure that both children were participating by making them both be involved, one with the keyboard and one with a light pen. He believed that the computer itself can not guarantee peer facilitation, but that under a supportive environment and conditions peers can facilitate individual learning. The psychological theories behind this are affect and motivation, talking about problems, conflict and disagreement and co-construction of knowledge.
When working in pairs there is a sense of confidence and clarity. It can be motivational and fun. Technology use that is connected to what children already know can build upon leads to greater motivation and self- direction. The increased self confidence with a peer can lead to much more communication and collaboration. Talking about the problem and working out how to solve it out loud and with someone else can help greatly.
Fletcher (1985) stated that overt verbalization was important in peer collaboration. He was interested in the role of conversation around the computer and classroom. Conflict and disagreement can result in alternative ways of tackling and solving problems and considering other points of view. Doise and Mugny (1984) used a similar experiment to that of Piaget conservation tasks of transference of liquids. The study drew upon thoughts of egocentrism and operational thinking. The results showed that if children worked in pairs or small groups then they would have a better experience of socio-cognitive conflict benefited the children’s cognitive development. This theory is supported further by research from Light and Glachan (1985) and Howe et al (1991).
Vygotsky theory is that knowledge is shared and co-operatively produced. The notion of the co-construction of knowledge is applied to symmetrical interactions between children. These co-constructions of knowledge effect how successful the performance of the children will be, in pairs or individually. The television program ‘children and new technology’ shows children working with computers and the impact it is having on their intellectual development. Psychologists, Wood and Crook both see the computer as a cultural tool. Margaret Meek believes that the thinking process should not be sped up and that computers are doing this. The jump from concrete to operational thinking is what Papert believed his ‘Logo’ problem could do for children. Is this good for development or should children let the process occur naturally, as Meek believes?
The implications of all this research for psychological theory are that tests have shown that peer collaboration is beneficial to child and further individual learning. Having a peer or a partner encourages confidence and self- esteem and therefore helps the child to make informed decisions when completing tasks on the computer. Paired or group work around the computer does lead to conversation and discussion, which is social interaction for the children. This is an important psychological development for some children who may otherwise been to shy to speak up in a classroom but in smaller groups, has more confidence.
Conflict and disagreement, when in a constructive manner can also be of a benefit for the children. The notion of Socio-Cognitive conflict has much research supporting it. It is good young children to learn to accept other points of view and not be egocentric. To learn that you have to listen and take on board other people’s opinions is a good lesson. Therefore, peer collaboration has a lot to offer psychological theory and child development.
The implications of this research in educational practice are not clear cut. The findings of some of the studies conflict with whether or not peer collaboration in school, is of benefit to learning and education, so therefore the value of it is not definite. Light et al (1987) results showed that working in groups or pairs did not benefit the child in a computerized programme. They found reasons for this and Blaye (1988) improved the idea of pair work on computers by
Introducing the light pen, which meant both children were actively involved with the program. This resulted in more positive feedback and the pairs did perform better. There has been a vast amount of study into the effect of peer collaboration in children at school on computers and most of the research does show that working alongside another person when supervised is of benefit. The computer itself does not guarantee peer facilitation of learning; it encourages overt verbalisation, which in turn helps children work things out for themselves. The computer can be used as teaching medium but with support learning from a teacher.
Computers can be socially isolating for children if they are not encouraged to work with someone in the classroom. The fear of children’s addiction to them and the effect they can have on children psychologically is worrying. Computers are like televisions, a child needs to have restrictions and time limits to the amount of time they spend on them. They can distract from homework and reading as shown in television programme ‘children and new technology’. The implications of computer use in the home to psychological well-being can be detrimental if child is given free rein and no limitations.
The educational benefits of peer collaboration and computers can be seen through much of this research. The interaction of peers in the classroom will always be valuable to their cognitive and intellectual development, as children can always learn off each other. The computer provides a medium that enables children to collaborate with each other. Technology is a tool that can provide another way for children to learn and make sense of their world. Computers can be used in developmentally appropriate ways that are beneficial to children, or they can be misused when not under proper supervision.
1. ‘Influencing children’s development’ – Dennis Bancroft and Ronnie Carr (The Open University 2004). 2. ‘Cognitive and Language Development in Children’ – John Oates and Andrew Grayson (The Open University 2004). Chapter 7- mathematical and scientific thinking Chapter 8- a socio-cognitive perspective on learning and cognitive development.