Collaborative learning

By Cathrine Hasse

Collaborative learning is key to REELER because our main hypothesis is that roboticists can benefit from new tools to increase their knowledge of and collaboration with affected stakeholders, in order to improve the creation of responsible and ethical robotics in Europe. We use the term collaborative learning to define a socio-material process which aligns the contributors’ understanding of material artefacts and common goals without being a completely collective or merely cooperative learning.

What is learning?

The notion of collaborative learning in robotics opens up for basic discussions of what learning refers to. Is learning referring to the process of learning something in particular? Is it the outcome or the process? Is it always tied to teaching and pedagogy? Is it an individual or a collective process or outcome?

The first thing to note is that learning is not explored solely in educational research, nor does it solely take place in formal teaching settings. We understand learning as a basic process tied to cultural and societal change (e.g. Mantzavinos 2004). Furthermore, some argue that human capability for learning is the fundamental process defining humankind as a species (Tomasello 1993). This approach to learning is not about individual but collective, cooperative, and collaborative learning. Humans are not only social but are characterized as a species as ultrasocial learners (Tomasello 1999, Hermann et al. 2007).

What is collaborative learning?

Ultimately, collaborative learning is the process by which humans have moved from controlling their environments with stone-carved hand-axes to modern oil drilling platforms and heated housing, electricity and robots. For collaborative learning to evolve, learners must acknowledge each other as collaborators. Participants must share a common goal, but not necessarily all meaning-making tied to reaching this common goal (Dillenbourg 1999). Essentially, collaborative learning relies on participants engaging in reflective perspective-taking (Tomasello et al. 1993, 495) to form common ground.

What are the benefits of collaborative learning?

There is a vast literature in educational research on how collaborative learning enhances the knowledge and critically-informed thinking of all participants (e.g. Gokhale 1995). One inspiration for the concept was the work of the educational psychologist Anne Edwards and her (2010) work on relational expertise, which we see as a prerequisite for collaborative learning. Participants can make use of their diverse competence and thus divide the labour among group members. However, through a process of collaborative learning there will gradually be a convergence of knowledge, which aligns how the partners understand the common goal (Jeong and Chi 2007, Roschelle 1992). Though collaborative learning requires that all parties are equally engaged when working towards a common goal, they do not need collectively to share all the expertise needed as long as they can make use of each other’s diverse expertise.

Collaborative understanding of robots

From an anthropological point of view collaborative learning still open questions about the very processes through which a group of humans come to perceive external materials as representations. How do we learn to interpret material inscriptions (like graphs and models) in the same ways and what are the learning processes involved? And do the interpretations of such materials as graphs differ fundamentally from interpretations of other material objects like robots?

Learning collaboratively in REELER

Robots may simply be studied as material artefacts. However, we seek to understand robots as both material objects and concepts - an understanding we developed internally through processes of collaborative learning among the REELER researchers.

In the project work itself, we will look into what it takes for ‘users’ or affected stakeholders and roboticists to align their perceptions, and ultimately visions, of robots. Through collaborative learning, REELER aims to bring roboticists and other affected stakeholders together to achieve the collectively shared goal of ethical responsible robotics.