GroupScribbles and pedagogical patterns

June 9, 2011, [MD]

One of the presentations that impressed me at the recent GCCCE 2011 was by Chen Wenli on using GroupScribbles for language learning. To be honest, I was more fascinated by the tool, than by the exact way in which she had used it.

This is a good example of how you the way you read an article changes dependent on your existing knowledge - a constructivist epistemology. My history professor in high school used to say that a historian read the first or second history book about a topic to find out "what happened", and he/she reads more history books to find out "how are people describing what happened.

As I began looking up this tool, which was first developed by SRI, and later taken over by the Learning Sciences Lab at Singapore's National Institute of Education, I found that a number of articles had been written about it. Reading the first article, I was very interested in the specific design of the tool, but on reading more articles, I already knew that, and could skip those parts (checking if there was anything new), and go to the way they had used it.

The tool itself is quite simple - there is an upper and a lower frame. In the lower frame is an inexhaustible supply of "post-it notes", which can be written on, drawn upon, etc. By dragging a note up to the upper pane, the note automatically becomes public and shared with everyone else (in the group or in the classroom).

The entire upper pane is shared, so anyone can drag notes around, and even take a note written by someone else down to their personal space (it then disappears from the public view), and for example attach a note, before they drag it back.

DiGiano, Tatar and Kireyev (2006) describe the advantages of physical post-it notes for meeting coordination:

However, there are also problems with physical post-it notes:

GroupScribbles was designed to preserve most of the good features, while alleviating many of the problems.

I was very excited to see a CSCL tool whose design explicitly referenced how we conduct workshops, because I have myself written about this previously, thinking that there were strong similarities and overlaps between these two domains, in Grappling with ideas.

Here I will discuss a few of the "affordances" of GroupScribbles, and post-it notes, more in detail.


Above, it was listed that post-it notes were informal, and were more suited to quick sketches than to detailed designs. Roschelle et. al (2007) refer to Socrates' drawing a sketch in the sand, and list the following advantages of informal sketching:

Low tool specificity

As DiGiano, Tatar and Kireyev (2006) points out, in choosing tools to support individual and collective intelligence, there are two different choices. The first is to think carefully about how to design the tool so that it can provide support for explicit group processes. This is what Dan Suthers and others have analyzed as "representational guidance" (see my blog post about this). This is a very powerful idea, that I find very attractive. However, another approach is to use "light-weight tools that support multi-faceted interactions with emergent conventions".

From what I understand, that's what David Jonassen argues in his book about mind tools (which I have not read yet). These sticky notes are also an example of this - of course, there are some clear attributes, as seen above, and they clearly favor one kind of notes (sketchy, brief sentences) over another (formalized, long narratives, elaborate illustrations and designs). However, you can write what you want to, place them where you want, you do not need to choose a certain size of post-it for a certain kind of idea, or label explicit links between them etc. You just write what comes to mind, moves them around till a pattern emerges. There is something powerful and liberating to this as well.


Roschelle et. al (2007) emphasizes the important role GroupScribbles can play in coordinating collaborative activity. They compare it to existing student response systems (a new category to me), such as clickers, or Classroom Presenter, which also uses tablet PCs, but do not enable the students to take any active role in coordination - it is all centrally coordinated by the teacher. In contrast, GroupScribbles, because of the ability of students to take notes into their private space, move them together in the collective space, etc, allows quite sophisticated social learning scripts, while freeing the teacher from spending too much time coordinating. This can be seen from the scripts listed in Roschelle, and Debarger****


Other things that were mentioned were playfulness and fun (without the problem with coordination, as mentioned above). Monica wrote about an article I didn't read, and mentioned anonymity as a big thing - this is a very interesting concept to think about. Debarger, et al. have also done very interesting work on learning patterns, adaptible teaching, and formative assessment.


A very interesting tool, and some very insightful articles. It was quite interesting reading a number of articles about the same tool, but from very different perspectives – and then reading a blog post by Monica about another article I hadn't read. I would love to play with it (but it seems to only be for Windows), or at least see it in use (I didn't find any videos of it).



Stian Håklev June 9, 2011 Toronto, Canada
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