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«Abstract: Group techniques and methods show great promise with respect to the learn effect in Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) ...»

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Jigsaw Method in the Context of CSCL

Udo Hinze

University of Applied Sciences Stralsund



Michael Bischoff

University of Applied Sciences Lübeck



Gerold Blakowski

University of Applied Sciences Stralsund




Group techniques and methods show great promise with respect to the learn effect in

Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) resulting from the perspective of cognitive elaboration, the construction of shared knowledge and the possibility of multiple perspectives. However, previous results in the research of group techniques in online learning were not very extensive. Therefore we started a jigsaw in CSCL in the context of the federal flagship project, “Virtual University of Applied Sciences for Technology, Computer Sciences and Business Administration” (VFH). During the course of “Environment oriented Management” (EoM) we tested the different assumptions and suppositions regarding the effect of the jigsaw method. In the case study we focused the evaluation on the degree of collaboration and the influence of the group method. The result was that jigsaw proved to be an efficient method to intensify collaboration in CSCL. To achieve this certain conditions have to be considered. Aspects like group cohesion, individual competence, and awareness, have a significant influence on the result of the jigsaw.

Introduction Teamwork is strongly associated with high degree of effectiveness and efficiency. The apparent evidence toward the superiority of cooperative vs. individual work is also transferred to the area of learning. It is widely accepted that, “cooperative learning is supporting the success in learning in general” (Pfister & Wessner 2000, pp.140). As plausible as this statement appears, you can also state that: “you can decide neither theoretically nor empirically which social form of learning and working is better” (Reinmann-Rothmeier& Mandl 1999, p.4). Both negative and positive effects within the area of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) can be proven empirically in a relatively effective manner.

A way to stress the positive aspects and to minimize the negative ones is to use group work techniques. In the context of the course “Environment oriented Management” (EoM), which was conceived and produced for use within the federal flagship project "Virtual University of Applied Sciences” (VFH), a group work technique called jigsaw was implemented. The cooperative task to complete was structured using this method. A jigsaw uses a redundant group structure: main groups and expert groups. The group task can only be completed with the knowledge acquired in the expert groups, and thus with the intensive cooperation of all team members.

CSCL – arguments and implications As positive impacts and arguments speaking for CSCL, three positions are taken into consideration. These positions are particularly scrutinized for their feasibility and their implications regarding the use of the jigsaw method.

Cognitive Elaboration

The possibility of cognitive elaboration in cooperative settings is valued positively and used as a main argument for the necessity of CSCL in the psychology of learning. In general one can assume that new information can be linked with the existing schemes only after it has been restructed and elaborated.

One of the most effective processes of elaboration is the explanation of the learning matters from one’s own point of view. Therefore teaching is the most effective way of learning. This fact is conceptualised as the perspective of cognitive elaboration (e. g. Slavin 1993).

But the explanation of the learning matter relates only slightly, or has no impact at all on the learning success of the recipient (Webb 1991). The advantages lie rather clearly on the person who gives the explanations.

Thus, a structure needs to be created which makes explanation possible for all group members – independently from group status and individual competence. Within this context the main starting point is the creation of the task. If designed as a jigsaw, one can assume that explanatory processes, independent from the status, are to be stimulated.

Multiple contexts and perspectives

Relevant for CSCL are the demands on the learning settings and the task formulated by instructional research. Significant matters include: authentic and situation-based learning settings, social and multiple contexts and multiple perspectives.

Within the framework of multiple perspectives, a learning situation is created so that the learner possesses the various possible perspectives of the task. During cooperating the group members are supposed to take the perception of the other group members. Thus, alternatives can be identified and rated.

As one can see, the learning goal is much more than just the acquisition of factual knowledge.

Multiple perspectives should exist in cooperative settings, however a contention with divergent positions is not inevitably necessary. Group members can, for example, ignore existing diverging opinions.

Dealing with multiple perspectives should thus be anchored within the learning task as well. The jigsaw should be an effective way not only to make multiple perspectives possible, but also to present them as necessary for solving the learning task.

Construction of shared knowledge

A further reason for the use of CSCL is propagated in the situated learning approach. Within this context learning is conceived as an active, self co-ordinated, situated and constructive process.

Additionally, learning is primarily considered as shared knowledge construction (e.g. Derry, S. J.

& DuRussel 1999). Cognition and the acquisition of knowledge are socially divided activities and thus refered to the use of co-operative learning scenarios like CSCL.

Indeed, the social context is necessary, however, it is an insufficient basis for the construction of shared knowledge. Intense interaction and the construction of shared knowledge must be specifically promoted. Using the jigsaw could be one possibility for that purpose.

Jigsaw Process Jigsaw is one method which makes the interdependence of group members possible, promotes interaction and cognitive elaboration, takes into consideration the principle of the multiple perspectives and contexts as well as the construction of common knowledge. In the following the course EoM will be used as an example (see Fig.1) to present the different phases of the jigsaw process (Clarke 1985, Clarke 1994).

phase I: introduction & group forming group 1: „contractors from the area of carrier” position: “immediate withdrawal of the ecological tax.“ group 2: „representatives from the government“ position: “ecological tax is necessary” group 3: „ecologists“ position: “the ecological tax is not sufficient” phase II: work in the interest groups task: „lobby work“

–  –  –

goal: creating a paper in order to reason and explain the respective position phase III: work in the expert groups task: acquainting with the other positions and gaining a consensus

–  –  –

goal: creating a consensus paper phase IV: rating and reflection Figure. 1: Phases in the process of the group task After the introduction of the topic, the learning materials were divided into sections (phase 1) and the learners were divided into interest groups, which independently compiled a section of the material (phase 2). Thereby different parts of the material are covered by different interest groups. In the module EoM, the theme ecological tax was processed by three different interest groups, which each had another emphasis as well as a divergent view on the problem. The basic positions were sketched up in advance.

The first task was to identify with the position alleged for the group and to collect arguments and pieces of information to support it. From these considerations, according to the theme of ecological tax as well as from the view of the respective group, a position paper should be prepared, in which the point of view of the group is written up along with background information.

To produce multiple perspectives the participants should likewise consider how the other groups could argue their perspectives and include this in their discussions. An essential aspect was the construction of shared knowledge through intense interaction within the group. Additionally, cognitive elaboration was necessary in those areas were the focus was on bringing together the divergent opinions for the respective position paper.

In the third phase new groups were formed based on the chance principle. The scenario was an expert conference initiated by the government. At these „meetings“ in which the different points of view on ecological tax were discussed, agents of all interest groups participated. For that purpose the participants had to acquaint themselves with the position papers of the other interest groups. After that the pros and cons of the individual positions were analyzed and discussed. At the end of the discussion, each group had to find a consensus and outline a course of action for the future. In a written summary the consensus found, as well as the course of action along with the underlying arguments were to be presented.

The third phase particulary intensively included the three implications mentioned above. Here, taking multiple perspectives was imperative. To prepare a common consensus paper, the participants had to take the other positions and try to understand their argumentation. Here the cognitive elaboration became more important than in phase 2. The participants had to explicitly explain the arguments for their positions in the groups. The main point is that the possibility to give an explanation is not bound to the status and/or to the competence of the participants. To achieve an adequate result, all participants had to take in turns both the role of the teacher and the role of the learner. All these processes required intense interaction and led to the construction of common knowledge.

The fourth phase included the evaluation and reflection of the results. For that purpose the consensus papers of the „expert meetings“ were made accessible to all course participants. The participants were to read the consensus papers of the other expert groups and to give their opinion to the produced results. Additionally, they were asked to reflect on the group work itself, as well as on the jointly compiled results.

Evaluation The empirical foundation of cooperative learning methods is largely fragmentary in Germany.

Systematic comparison investigations to the employment possibilities and effectiveness controls are not widely available (Giesen 2001). Still more deficits can be seen in the research situation with respect to the employment of the jigsaw method in the area of CSCL. According to Friedrich, a.o. (Friedrich & Hesse 1999, p.126) „ the suitability of this (…) can first of all only be assumed“.

Inasmuch as the module „EoM“ has been introduced in a small scale up to now, first locally in the pilot mode of the VFH, the evaluation refers more to the current status. The primary goal of the formative evaluation was to draw qualitative statements, which refer concretely to improvement possibilities. The main question was how deep the degree of collaboration was and how the degree of collaboration was influenced by the group method.


Thus, the main question was whether the group cooperation can be considered as sufficient. The majority of the participants (53%) answered this question negatively and a lower value was reached.

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