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Distributed by Design: On the Promises and Pitfalls of Collaborative Learning with Multiple Representations


Journal of the Learning Sciences Volume 20, Number 3, ISSN 1050-8406


This article presents a designed learning environment intended to engage students in learning about the relationships among multiple representations as they work together on a shared task. Over the course of several extended problem-solving sessions, groups developed several successive alignments of participants and representations as they learned to solve increasingly difficult tasks. Our findings highlight the emergent and often unexpected meanings that learners established for representational tools as their groups reorganized into increasingly effective problem-solving ensembles. Our findings echo those of prior research regarding learners' considerable competence and creativity in interpreting and applying distributed representational tools, as well as the careful coordination among learners involved in establishing and acting on those interpretations. Challenges in this design space include instances in our data where students capitalized on connections among representations without really trying to understand those connections, temporarily undermined the distributed character of the representations, and worked more efficiently by reducing the number of participants actively involved in breaking codes. Our findings indicate that managing these challenges requires presenting groups with regular opportunities to reconsider and reorganize their roles, and to experiment with different meanings and uses of flexible tools in the context of tasks with carefully sequenced levels of difficulty. (Contains 16 figures, 2 tables and 11 footnotes.)


White, T. & Pea, R. (2011). Distributed by Design: On the Promises and Pitfalls of Collaborative Learning with Multiple Representations. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 20(3), 489-547. Retrieved June 14, 2021 from .

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