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Communications of the ACM

ACM TechNews

Classroom Computers Boost Face-to-Face Learning

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A European Union-funded research initiative called LEAD is using computers to enhance collaborative, face-to-face learning and problem solving. The research demonstrates that students can solve problems, master subject matter, and learn to collaborate more effectively when their face-to-face communication is enhanced by specific software tools.

LEAD coordinator Jerry Andriessen says the research is important because individual learning and problem solving alone does not prepare students for the interactive and collaborative settings they will encounter later in life. LEAD researchers created the Collaborative Face to Face Educational Environment (CoFFEE), an open source program that can be installed in a school's computer lab or computer-equipped classroom. The program is designed to foster communication and problem solving in class instead of learning at a distance, and does not require an Internet link after installation. Students can use CoFFEE as part of a structured, face-to-face problem-solving challenge, with students in the same room communicating directly with one another while working on their own computers on the same challenge. Andriessen says students quickly learn to switch between verbal exchanges and computer-enhanced interactions.

CoFFEE improves cooperative problem solving through a suite of tools that help students analyze and understand a problem, and ensures that every student has the opportunity to contribute to the solution. CoFFEE's two primary tools are a discussion manager and a visualization interface, which complement each other by fostering verbal communication and a visual representation of the problem and the solution.

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