This report outlines an experimental design for a study that investigates peer collaboration in a computer supported learning environment. In the proposed study we examine different ways of supporting peer collaboration which, for the purposes of this study, refers to two students working on a single computer playing an electronic game. The design summarizes the issues under investigation and a gives a detailed description of a complete study designed to address these issues.
The standard computer is configured with only one mouse and therefore when two students share a computer they need to share the mouse as well. We want to investigate the impact of adding a second mouse to the configuration such that each child would have their own mouse. The difficulty with adding a second mouse is that most computer applications or game software only accept input from a single mouse. In order to add a second mouse, additional software is needed. The software developed for this study accepts input from two mice and passes on one stream of mouse input along to the application level software.
The issue of determining which of the two mice is active (i.e., the one whose input stream is sent to the software) is resolved through the use of mouse control passing protocols. A protocol is simply a set of rules for interaction. We have developed software to support two separate control passing protocols: Give and Take. These protocols rely on the use of different mouse buttons. In both protocols there is only one mouse that is active within the application software at any given time. It is always the case that the left mouse button of the active mouse is used to perform actions within the application software. The right mouse button passes control between the two mice. In the Give protocol the right mouse button of the active mouse can be used to give control from the active mouse to the non-active mouse. In the Take protocol the right mouse button of the non-active mouse can be used to take control from the active mouse. Another configuration alternative for using two mice is to actually modify the application level software to accept two streams of mouse input. We call this the Concurrent protocol because both mice are concurrently active. As such, both children can perform actions within the software at the same time.
Some of the questions that we would like to address in this study are: How does the performance of a single child on a computer compare to the performance of two children sharing a computer? What is the nature of collaboration when two children must share a single mouse compared to when they each have their own mouse? When using two mice, how does the interaction among students and their performance differ under the protocols Give, Take, and Concurrent? We would like to take this one step further. We would like to determine if peer collaboration using computers affects learning and, if so, which computer configuration best supports collaboration and learning.