I predict that we will see a kind of semiotic turn in CSCL, with a focus on materiality; a rising interest in the kind of notional and representational systems that are used when people collaborate in particular practice fields. Semiotics is the study of sign systems, their symbolic as well as physical qualities (Eco, 1979). While there was a certain interest in the first phase of CSCL--the discussions forums, online forums--in semiotic aspects of collaboration, those first generation semiotic devices were designed for the purpose of asynchronous communication and exchange (‘discussion forum’, ‘thread’). They were not so much informed by people's practices and activities. In more recent years, we've seen a continued interest in these systems, and a surging interest in talk, in synchronous communication. A particularly active area that yielded numerous ideas for representational notations as been research on computer-supported argumentation (Noroozi, Weinberger, Biemans, Mulder, & Chizari, 2012).
The new semiotic turn should focus on artifacts that are representative of people's practices, rather than artifacts designed specifically for the purposes of communication and learning. For instance, the blueprints that building engineers and architects use, the symbol system that musicians use, the specialized document types and codes medical practitioners use. There has been more interest on practice-related notations and artifacts in CSCW than in CSCL (e.g., Turner, Bowker, Gasser, & Zacklad, 2006), and still comparatively little work in CSCL that engages with authentic artifacts and their role in collaboration and learning.
As an example for what CSCL research with a semiotic perspective could look like, think of Dan Suther's early work on the guidance function of specific notional systems (e.g., Suthers & Hundhausen, 2003), but now with a focus on notations and artifacts that have a more discipline/profession-specific grounding and are more practice-based.
I can see a number of benefits of the ‘new semiotic turn’: For instance, content would become more important again; we are currently perhaps too much focused on the analysis of the collaboration process (Reimann & Yacef, 2013). But without a concern for content, process remains hard to understand. Another benefit would be the development of stronger ties between CSCL and CSCW. Thirdly, CSCL would become more relevant for vocational and professional learning because we would now be studying and supporting collaborative learning around a range of artefacts much wider than dedicated ‘knowledge’ artifacts such as concept maps and math equations. Furthermore, a semiotic perspective on collaboration could contribute to HCI research (de Souza, 2005) and to the development of task-related applications that support learning in (collaborative) practice, in addition to getting a task done (solving a problem).
A question I want to raise is what the reasons might be that practice-related artefacts play still such a little role in CSCL. Why are they left behind? Maybe it is because they require specialized knowledge, and most of CSCL researchers are not at the same time engineers, doctors, musicians, accountants? Maybe it is because these kind of artefacts are difficult to analyze computationally? Maybe it is because we still make a strong distinction between learning and work, at least in K-12, arguably even in studies that take place in the tertiary sector?
de Souza, C.S. (2005). The semiotic engineering of human-computer interaction. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Eco, U. (1979). A theory of semiotics. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.
Noroozi, O., Weinberger, A., Biemans, H., Mulder, M., & Chizari, M. (2012). Argumentation-Based Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (ABCSCL): A synthesis of 15 years of research. Educational Research Review, 7, 79-106.
Reimann, P., & Yacef, K. (2013). Using process mining for understanding learning. In R. Luckin, S. Puntambekar, P. Goodyear, B. Grabowski, J. D. M. Underwood & N. Winters (Eds.), Handbook of design in educational technology (pp. 472-481). New York: Taylor & Francis.
Suthers, D.D., & Hundhausen, C.D. (2003). An experimental study of the effects of representational guidance on collaborative learning processes. The Journal of the Learnign Sciences, 12(2), 183-218.T
urner, William, Bowker, Geoffrey, Gasser, Les, & Zacklad, Manuel. (2006). Information Infrastructures for Distributed Collective Practices. Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), 15, 93-110.