Group Cognition in Synchronous Chat

Stahl, G. (2012d). Theories of cognition in collaborative learning. In C. Hmelo-Silver, A. O'Donnell, C. Chan & C. Chinn (Eds.), International handbook of collaborative learning. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.


Underlying deeply successful collaborative learning are processes of group cognition. Where collaborative learning is more than a group of individuals supporting each other’s individual learning, there are group processes in which contributions from participants build on each other. The group achieves cognitive tasks such as problem solving in ways that no individual could have on their own. Researchers have often looked for signs of such group cognition in asynchronous online settings like discussion forums. However, the Virtual Math Teams (VMT) Project has produced considerable data of small groups of students using synchronous chat to achieve group cognitive results.

While there have been claims that collaborative learning is a “social” phenomenon— i.e., consists largely of group-level practices—there has been little analysis and description of these processes as such; learning has generally been studied at the individual unit of analysis. The VMT research, in contrast, focuses on describing the interactional small-group practices that take place in synchronous chat learning contexts. This paper considers these practices and how they work together to form the foundation for effective collaborative learning activities. It analyzes collaborative learning activities in VMT’s synchronous chat setting to discuss such small-group practices as: resolving cognitive conflict, pursuing inquiry, maintaining a group problem space and coordinating multiple modes of reasoning. These have broad implications for foundational issues of temporality, indexicality and group cognition.