Comparing Constructions Through the Web

Shaw & Gaines Knowledge Science Institute, U of Calgary

Article Summary

Introduction: Tools for eliciting and comparing construction systems could become a truly emancipatory technology (Habermas, 1968) for collaborative learning, if they were widely available over the Internet.

Construct Elicitation and Modeling: Rationale for the major methodology used for the indirect elicitation of constructs and terminology from individuals and groups based on extensions of the repertory grid technique originally proposed by Kelly (1955) as an empirical measurement methodology appropriate to personal construct psychology. Review of four-way comparison of constructs in terms of the distinctions made and terminology used for them. Describes the usual technique for eliciting these comparisons; two people negotiate a common set of elements characterizing a domain, each separately develop their personal constructs based on these elements, then exchange their grids with the ratings removed and attempt to rate the elements on the other’s constructs. The comparison of the exchanged grids allows consensus and conflict to be modeled, while that of the original grids allows correspondence and contrast to be modeled.

Computer Supported Modeling of Construction Systems: Describes four tools of RepGrid (CPSC, 1993); Elicitation tools, Modeling tools, Exchange tools, and Comparison tools. Describes the World Wide Web service, WebGrid, which functions as an interface to RepGrid through the HTTP common gateway interface to MacHTTP. Significant parts of this tool include a dialogue generator that replaces the GUI to RepGrid on personal computers with dynamically generated HTML forms accessible through browsers, such as NetScape, and a high-speed PICT-to-GIF converter that supports the transmission across the web of the graphic output from RepGrid analyses. WebGrid guides the elicitation through feedback about relevant actions that the user may take, but the system is strongly non-modal in that no particular action is forced upon the user. The user may choose to save the grid locally to the client machine. WebGrid includes the URL in the HTML form so that the file saved may be reloaded at any time and the interaction continued without the need to take special action at either client or server.

WebGrid In Collaborative Learning: WebGrid allows a user to commence an elicitation based on another person’s grid, either using just the elements in it and developing his or her own constructs, or using both elements and constructs but commencing with all the rating unknown (an ‘exchange’ grid). New grids can be compared to the original one, to determine correspondence or conflict. An example is detailed which identifies a supervisor and student who each complete a grid, and then exchanging the grids to compare. Shaw & Gaines support this sharing to support collaborative learning which reduces the impact of the power differential between the teacher and learner and creates a single learning community.

Linking to MultiMedia on the Web: WebGrid supports annotation to be added to any element, thus supporting the use of hypermedia facilities on the Web. Users can include diagrams, pictures and links to other Web documents.

Experience with WebGrid in Courses: The authors describe how constructivist tools, such as WebGrid and HTML (Web Home Pages), which allow students to actively participate in the subject matter, publish their own materials, and work collaboratively in groups, contribute to students becoming more reflective practitioners (Schon, 1983). Learning is a joint enterprise, which leads to a less authoritarian seminar or classroom model. Rationale for this approach to learning is the need to prepare students for a new industrial infrastructure which has seen an end of large-scale information systems previously dominant in computer science employment opportunities. The new emphasis is on small, adaptable, entrepreneurial organizations. WebGrid allows students to take more responsibility for their own learning, explore different perspectives on the world in a structured fashion leading to results that can be presented to others and discussed within groups and with the class as a whole. Additionally, this approach used in a graduate course allows for applied scientific research in a mentorship relationship, supplemented and extended by student input and sharing of ideas.

Conclusions and Future Directions: WebGrid is an interactive collaborative learning system, available as an open service on the web. The authors hope that WebGrid’s availability and use will encourage other researchers to develop similar tools for collaborative and interactive learning.

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