Collaborative Learning in an Educational Robotics Environment

Denis, B., & Hubert, S. (2001). Collaborative learning in an educational robotics environment. Computers in Human Behavior, 17(5-6), 465–480.

In this paper, Denis and Hubert explore the idea of collaboration in the context of small group robotics tasks. The bulk of the paper deals with situating the study within various theoretical frameworks. First they explain that their study is adopting an approach to educational robotics that is based on learners’ “exploration and creation of microworlds” (p. 466), which seems to be related to complex systems theory. Their analysis is based on Laclercq’s (1987) competencies model, focussing primarily on strategic competencies such as problem solving, communication, and metacognition. They also situate the study in Laclercq & Denis’s (1988) “six teaching/learning paradigms” (Denis & Hubert, p. 468), identifying their approach as one that primarily implements creation, and incidentally implements exploration and experimentation. They review how their learning activity is an example of both problem based learning, as defined by Denis & Hubert (1998), and collaborative learning, as defined by a handful of authors at the time (circa 2001). The process of this study follows Laclercq’s (1995) regulation process, which appears to be an early predecessor of design-based research. The actual study itself involved two pairs of students, age 10, engaging in different robotics activities. The first group was tasked with building and programming a robot (for some undisclosed task), while the second group was given a prebuilt robot and only asked to program it. Using observation grids, the researchers coded and quantified the behaviors they witness during these activities. Their results included noting that collaboration did, in fact, occur, and that there were differences in the level of participation by each student which could be moderated by a teacher.

This study failed to produce any meaningful conclusions, in my opinion. So much space was taken up situating the study in various frameworks and methodologies that the study itself was lost. Two sentences were spent actually describing the task, which itself seemed meager and inconsequential. The questions these researchers ended up asking of the data they collected seemed like an afterthought, and didn’t ask anything new from the frameworks they had painstakingly laid out. Even this detailed outline of frameworks fails to impart any understanding of how or why they apply to this particular study. The paper feels like the product of someone wanting to write about robotics, wanting to discuss collaboration, wanting to cite their own papers and their favourite authors, and just trying to shoehorn all of that into a study with no real direction or purpose. I may be thinking over-cynically, but identifying that collaboration happens during group projects doesn’t seems worthy of an entire paper.

It’s also worth noting that both authors are French writers, and the translation is awkward throughout. I feel that very little meaning was lost, but it does make the paper less readable.

While I’m not enamoured with the study itself, some interesting links to present day learning sciences theory pop up in this paper, which was published in 2001. While not as robust as the framework laid out by Enyedy & Stevens (2014), the authors cite a handful of studies aimed at understanding and categorizing collaboration. These are crucial steps before and researcher can really hope to understand how collaboration works within specific domains like robotics. We also see hints of the researchers applying something like what we today would call design-based research, where an intervention is designed and executed, and continual feedback loops are built in to allow the intervention, data collection, and analyses to evolve as the study continues. The regulation process they cite implies this kind of methodology, as well, Denis and Hubert note some adjustments their data collection scheme could be improved in future iterations of this study.


Denis, B., & Hubert, S. (2001). Collaborative learning in an educational robotics environment. Computers in Human Behavior, 17(5-6), 465–480.

Leclercq, D. (1987). L’ordinateur et les dé fis de l’apprentissage. Horizon, 13.

Leclercq, P. (1995). Approche Technologique de l’Education et de la Formation, Université de Liège.

Leclercq, D., & Denis, B. (1998). Méthodes de formation et psychologie de l’apprentissage. Service de Technologie de l’Education de l’Université de Liège.

Enyedy, N. & Stevens, R. (2014). Analyzing collaboration. in K. Sawyer (Ed.) The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (191-212). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.