Theory

Learning Theories Guiding Our Use of CS/CR Builder

 

Situated Learning

We have carefully designed CS/CR based on several important theories about how people learn to do a complex task, a task like working collaboratively with student-writers on drafts of papers.  CS/CR is an example of what’s called “situated learning”–learning by doing.  With simulations, learners are not just reading or talking about tutoring.  Instead, they are placed in a role and they have to accomplish a goal.  In the case of writing center simulations, learners usually play the role of a writing consultant or tutor who has to perform a certain task, make choices, and achieve a goal.  They gather information, try to figure out a complex situation, try to engage student-writers in conversation and in planning and self-critique and revision, analyze sample drafts, consider choices of what to do and what to say, set priorities, and make choices and then receive feedback on those choices.  There’s persuasive research evidence that situated learning helps people learn some of what they need to know as they enter what Etienne Wenger calls a “community of practice”–a practice like tutoring writing.

Functional Fidelity

As we have designed CS/CR Builder and developed simulations and critical-reading activities, we have always been keenly aware that web-based simulations–just like in-person role-plays–cannot possibly capture the complexity of real writing center sessions.  Experienced tutors know that each writer and draft and situation is different, and that there’s no single right script for proceeding through a session.  But we’re convinced that  despite their limitations web-based simulations can be valuable components of tutor education.  According to the research and theory about this kind of learning, what matters for new tutors are not all the infinite details or variations of real dialogue but rather what’s called in the literature “functional fidelity” to some of the central tasks in tutoring.  Simulations can give new tutors valuable, risk-free practice encountering some of the challenges they will encounter in actual sessions and can help them learn to consider the options they have and see some of the consequences of the choices they try.

Scaffolding

Finally, we’re persuaded by research that new learners, new practitioners in a particular domain need frequent and prompt feedback on the choices they make and they need modeling on how to do a task–what’s called “scaffolding” learning.  As you design simulations using CS/CR, you will have many ways to give that kind of feedback–you can build feedback into what a student-writer says to a tutor, into a writer’s facial expressions, into comments from a mentor, into feedback on answers to questions, into scoring on answers (if you choose to use the scoring function); and of course new tutors using simulations can and should discuss simulations with other tutors and with their director(s) and mentors in online or in-person discussions built into tutor education.  As learners become more advanced, it makes sense to reduce the frequency of that feedback or to eliminate it altogether.

To read more about situated learning, functional fidelity, and scaffolded learning, please see the Bibliography section of this website.