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The role of shared mental models in learning through design with digital media

Knowledge Exchange Lab


Start 2008 - open-ended project


Budget resources of KMRC


In constructivist approaches to learning, learning through design (constructionism) is considered a valuable way of implementation of constructivist learning (Kafai & Resnick, 1996; Paper, 1994). Design tasks applied within this theoretical framework can be considered ill-structured problems, which in general need to be solved in collaboration with others. Due to the complexity of such design tasks and the simultaneous action of several persons (learners), there is the need to coordinate the collaborative design activities. In order to do so, shared mental models of the situation, which help to define and structure the design-related problem spaces need to emerge (Bromme & Stahl, 1999; Goel & Piroli, 1992; Stahl, Zahn, & Finke, 2006).
Against this background, this project investigates how the collaborative work on design-problems in computer- supported learning scenarios can be influenced by suggesting or supporting specific mental models.
In a first experimental study we exemplarily compared two metaphors describing the character of the design product of a visual design task with digital video and investigated their potential of structuring the participants shared mental models. With regard to the lack of theoretical models of the production of audio-visual media, we referred to theoretical approaches to processes of film reception from cognitive psychology and mapped two contrasting metaphors on collaborative media production. In detail, the first metaphor (documentary film) represents an operationalization of (a) a linear filmic information structure, whereas the second (interactive DVD) represents an operationalization of (b) a non-linear, spatial structure in terms of Spiro’s (1991) cognitive flexibility theory. We expected the production of a non-linear filmic information structure to lead to greater cognitive flexibility than that of a linear one. The content of the learning material applied was related to the acquisition of historical competences, with the focus being multi-perspectivity (Hartmann, Martens, & Sauer, 2007) as an operationalization of cognitive flexibility as the dependent variable. The impact of the two metaphors is investigated using a prototypical task, which asks participants to collaboratively decompose a digitized historical news-reel produced by the allied forces in 1948 using the video-software WebDIVERTM.


  • Prof. Roy Pea, Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning (SCIL)