Constructing A Joint Problem Space: The Computer As A Tool For Sharing Knowledge


Teasley, S. D., & Roschelle, J. (1993). Constructing a joint problem space: The computer as a tool for sharing knowledge. In S. P. Lajoie & S. J. Derry (Eds.), Computers as Cognitive Tools (pp. 229-258). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.


This chapter presents a case study intended to exemplify the use of a computer as a cognitive tool for learning that occurs socially. We investigate a particularly important kind of social activity, the collaborative construction of new problem solving knowledge. Collaboration is a process by which individuals negotiate and share meanings relevant to the problem solving task at hand. The essential property of collaborative problem solving, we argue, is that it enables the construction of a shared conceptual structure which we call a Joint Problem Space. The Joint Problem Space (JPS) supports problem solving activity by integrating semantic interpretations of goals, features, operators and methods. We propose that the fundamental activity in collaborative problem solving occurs via the students’ participation in the creation and maintenance of a JPS. We examine learning within a computational context in order to address the question of how students construct shared meanings in model-building activities. We hold modelling to be one of the central activities of the scientific community — understanding a concept and having a model are closely related properties of cognition. We focus on qualitative modelling. Specifically, we want students to learn qualitative modelling with the Newtonian concepts of velocity and acceleration, and thereby gain deep access to key concepts of Newtonian science. The computer simulation we use, the Envisioning Machine, was designed specifically to portray a graphical, dynamic simulation of a physicists’ mental model of velocity and acceleration. The design of the Envisioning Machine (see Roschelle, 1990) is intended to both enable and mediate students’ learning– it enables students to construct qualitative understanding of velocity and acceleration, and mediates their discourse about the meaning of those concepts for the activity of modelling motion.

Read more from SRI