Projects Associated with the
Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition

Designing, Implementing, and Sustaining Experimental Enrichment Activities
Current LCHC-UC Links projects
International Playworlds: Mixing Adult and Child Fantasy Play
Microgenesis of Culture and Cognition
Designing for Developmental Change in Post-Secondary Education
Using New Media to Promote Cognitive Change and Academic Achievement
The Solana Beach Fifth Dimension
Past projects

Designing, Implementing, and Sustaining Experimental Enrichment activities back to top

UC Links is a network of educational programs that connect community and university partners to provide computer-based and other learning activities for school children. Working in small groups, older and younger children learn together through informal activities exploring a variety of educational software, Internet-based resources, and other educational materials. University students enrolled in UC Links undergraduate coursework take part in community-based after-school or in-school programs and help guide the children through a variety of learning activities designed to promote literacy, math, science, and computer skills, as well as collaborative behavior. Drawing on the knowledge of parents and teachers in the local community, each site in the UC Links network is adapted to serve the special concerns, interests and needs of local children and their families. The community's role in the collaboration is to define themes and activities appropriate for their children. The university's role is sustained through undergraduate coursework that connects faculty and students' community service activities with undergraduate education.

Beginning in 1986 and continuing to the present time, a major tool LCHC has used for engaging in UCLinks activities has been a specially designed system of activities referred to as “The Fifth Dimension” which has been implemented in many locales by LCHC staff and associated researchers in other universities. Most implementations have involved after-school programs located in Boys and Girls Clubs, YM & YWCAs, recreation centers, and public schools across the United States, Mexico, Spain, Australia, Finland, and Russia. This work includes preschool through middle school participants.

See a video program made about this program in its earlier years.

Fifth Dimension  programs are designed around a set of common, yet locally adaptable, principles derived from cultural-historical activity theory. For example, Fifth Dimension sites provide school aged children with the opportunity to explore a variety of computer games and other game-like educational activities. These activities are structured so that participants are induced to externalize, reflect upon and criticize information through a variety of media. These interactions are then intensively studied drawing upon varied sources of date from post-session field notes to real time video. These various lines of investigation lead us ineluctably into mixed methods research, constantly making methodology a focus of attention. ( PI: Michael Cole)

Current LCHC UC-Links Projects back to top

Torrey Pines Elementary School

Started in 1996, The Fifth Dimension site at Torrey Pines Elementary currently consists of two programs. The first program runs during school hours with all of the 5th graders in the school, the other is conducted during afterschool hours primarily for children bused in from a lower-income, largely Latino, neighborhood south of I-5. The two implementations permit an analysis of the dynamics of activity within a 5thDimension as a function of ethnic group origins of the children and formal vs informal institutional arrangements. The Fifth Dimensions at Torrey Pines are characterized by high parent and teacher involvement and a high level of collaboration between parents, teachers, and university faculty. These networks of collaboration has made it possible to overcome a common weakness of Fifth Dimensions as research tools—we have not regularly had access to children’s academic performance. At Torrey Pines, however the relatively strong administrative structure has played a crucial role. The Principle, on his own, did the kinds of quantitative comparative analyses we ourselves required. It was he who came to us gloating about the evidence of the exceptional efficacy of the program. (Researchers: Virginia Gordon, Beth FerholMichael Cole)

SARAH-LCHC Fifth Dimension Collaboration

SARAH is a Brazilian non-profit network of federally funded rehabilitation hospitals and related educational training institutes. SARAH-Brasília, the flagship of the network, plays a multifaceted role in teaching, administration and the delivery of clinical services designed to foster knowledge and medical advancement. The clinical conditions most frequently treated at the SARAH Network include: cerebral palsy, spina bifida, traumatic brain injury, stroke, spinal cord injury, neuromuscular diseases and orthopedic problems. The LCHC- SARAH/Brasilia collaboration began in 2002. During 2006-2007 the SARAH hospital in Brasilia implemented a version of the Fifth Dimension. (Co-PIs: Michael Cole & Lucía Braga).

La Clase Mágica

La Clase Mágica (LCM) is a bilingual/bicultural adaptation of the Fifth Dimension model. It has primarily focused on working with Spanish-English bilingual children from Eden Gardens, a low-income recent immigrant Mexicano community in north San Diego County. (PI: Olga Vásquez)

University-Community Co-laboratory: T&C Learning Center

In the summer of 2007 a UC-links site was started in collaboration with the Education section of the UCSD Supercomputer (on the University side) and the Town and Country Learning Center, at HUD housing project, on the Community side.  This project also mixes play, learning, and friendships among undergraduates, but it uses a strategy for inducing development that we think of as “mutual appropriation” – an interactive  strategy in which the University participants begin by immersing themselves in their hosts’ ongoing activities in ways that the host deems beneficial and the two group develop a new program in common, using resources unique to each. Interesting in its own right, this line of research provides a natural contrast with the Fifth Dimension strategy, where community partners initially receive an attractive “activity package” from LCHC. The analytic objective in the Fifth Dimension strategy is to expose for analysis how the initial “seed” planted by the University onto Community “soil” is transformed over time as it continues to develop (or not) in the “garden” created by the partners. It is this contrast that makes this line of work especially interesting from a theoretical/methodological point of view.   (Researcher:  Diane Baxter, Camille Campion, Michael Cole, Robert Lecusay, Ivan Rosero).

International Playworlds: Mixing Adult and Child Fantasy Play back to top

The Playworld projects explore a historically new form of play, one in which adults and children enter into a common fantasy, often using folk stories recorded in books as a key organizing artifact.  Playworlds are dramaturgical classroom interventions that focus on emotional experience and aesthetic relation to reality through involving children and adults in staged as well as spontaneous pretend play.  These interventions are grounded in the theories of L. S. Vygotsky of Russia, G. Lindqvist of Sweden and Pentti Hakkarainen of Finland, and are designed to enable adults and children to engage in joint pretense as a means of promoting the emotional, cognitive, and social development of both children and adults. In 2003 playworld researchers from Finland, Japan, Sweden and the United States were able to work together for several months at LCHC. We staged the first U.S. playworld together, and applied for funding for future collaboration.  In November, 2005 we held the first international playworld conference, Cross-cultural Perspectives on Learning and Development Through Art and Play, at LCHC, with funding provided by the Pacific Rim Research Program.  The first resulting international joint publication will be in a special issue of Mind, Culture and Activity, devoted to varying cultural approaches to Playworlds. It will be edited by two members of the LCHC playworld project.  A number of other presentations of this work are currently scheduled for international conferences during 2008.   During the 2005 conference the Playworld group completed a detailed, joint analysis of data comparing our international set of playworld projects.  This collaborative work enabled us to continue our joint data analysis through regular email exchange and video conferencing.  The use of telecommunication exchanges engendered additional individual visits to foreign sites based upon locally available funds. In January, 2008  two playworld researchers from Finland, one from Sweden and one from Japan, are coming to LCHC for several months to complete publication plans and to initiate a new round of research covering the 2008-2011 period based upon the lessons of our prior efforts.
For country-specifc descriptions of  the various playworlds projects visit our Playworlds Page.

Microgenesis of Culture and Cognition back to top

The form of theory we use to guide our empirical work emphasizes the primacy of culturally mediated, social processes in human learning and development and the necessity of studying these processes at different time scales in relation to each other. For example, the study of 5thDimensions as historically developing socio-cultural formations over periods as long as decades is also a site for the study of the ontogenetic development of the children and undergraduates who participate in them. In addition, to gain access to the interpersonal dynamics that are the immediate environment for change, we seek to study the processes of microgenetic change that happen in the ongoing activities at the sites. Various publications of this work have appeared and our analyses of accumulating data are ongoing.

The projects described in this section sometimes take place in UClinks sites and sometimes in other settings. They share the feature that they are concerned with the dual dynamics of culture formation and conceptual/developmental change in individual participants. We see this work not as vital to our own work, but as an avenue for exploring the complementarity among CHAT and other social science approaches that see culture and cognition as co-constituted, approaches such as the distributed cognition approach in cognitive science

Microgenesis of Culture Within Fifth Dimensions.

As discussed in a recent monograph about the Fifth Dimension research program (Cole & The Distributed Literacy Consortium, 2006), every Fifth Dimension constitutes an “idioculture,” (“a system of knowledge, beliefs, behaviors, and customs shared by members of an interacting group to which members can refer and that serve as the basis of further interaction”). At present we are engaged in an analysis of two decades of electronically stored field notes containing descriptions written by participants in a variety of Fifth Dimensions in order to provide a quantitative, comparative description of the growth of Fifth Dimension idiocultures that is compatible with typical qualitative descriptions of such phenomena. This work entails coding of field notes for key indicators of culture formation sequentially over one quarter periods and aggregating the field notes from a given site and quarter to lay bare the process of enculturation.

Microgenesis of Culture Using Intercultural Training Simulations

A growing literature is documenting the processes of idioculture formation using meaningless stimuli which subjects are asked to learn to categorize in small group problem solving settings. This approach represents one, useful, end of a continuum of needed studies on the microgenesis of culture. What it under-represents, however, is the strong emotional attachments that are a part of normal culture formation and enculturation processes. To begin to bridge between quasi-naturalistic approaches to culture formation and enculturation that are observable in Fifth Dimensions and activities in which subjects categorize ink blots or number patterns, a team of LCHC researchers is initiating a study that takes as its starting point materials that have been developed in inter-cultural sensitivity training programs and courses on intercultural communication, but which have not been subjected to rigorous and detailed analysis. A major issue we confront in this work is to be able, through a combination of daily diary keeping by participants, audio and video recordings of activities to be able to document the interweaving of cognitive and emotional changes that occur more or less simultaneously in the group and its members and that are believed to be at the heart of culture formation. (Researchers: Michael Cole, Deborah Wilson

Development of Adult-Child Intersubjectivity in Informal Learning Settings.

This project is closely related to the work on microgenesis of culture because joint attention to objects and the ability to interpret what others are thinking and feeling appear to be at the heart of both cultural and intellectual development. In this work, which takes place in UCLinks sites we focus on the process by which adults and children develop a sufficient shared sense of the other's understanding of a given activity to be able to accomplish successful explanations and hence, enable learning. To understand this process requires that the participants communicate their experience to one another, providing access to the processes involved. Combining participant-observation and detailed video analysis of adult-child interactions as they seek to make a slow motion video illustrating the concepts of velocity and changes in velocity (for example), we focus on how these processes unfold through the emergence and coordination of multiple communicative modalities between the participants mediated by various objects and tools designed to promote success. Analyses draw on transcripts, video recordings of the interaction from multiple perspectives, and analysis of the products embodying participants’ changing understandings. This work is being done in collaboration with physics education groups at the University of Colorado, Boulder (Noah Finkelstein, Laurel Mayhew) and Tufts University (Brian Gravel, Chris Rogers, William Church) and LCHC (Michael Cole, Robert Lecusay). For a published example from a Fifth Dimension see Lecusay, R., Rossen, L., Cole, M. (2008).

Designing for Developmental Change in Post-Secondary Education back to top

 Cooperative learning in introductory computer science classes

This NSF-funded project involves the development and evaluation of cooperative learning exercises for an Introductory computer science class.. The exercises involve students in specific roles to focus their attention on key concepts involved in developing and testing Java programs. To date, experimental results show that the benefits of cooperative learning outweigh any possible losses due to reduced lecture time. These benefits are enjoyed by both male and female students, ethnic-majority and minority students, and by students from a variety of majors. Importantly, the educational benefits of cooperative learning experiences continue when students take subsequent coursework in computer science. (Researchers: Alexander Chizhik ( San Diego State University ))

Confronting Attrition in Doctoral Student Education

This project explores a systems model of doctoral student development. The latter is viewed as a process (often over a period of 6-8 years) of the student acquiring the necessary intellectual, social and personal/psychological competencies.  These are important in moving from the status of a novice to that of an emerging expert in a discipline. The route for that developmental journey is conceptualized as involving a gradual understanding of how things 'work' (a) in the students' chosen discipline, (b) in their respective academic department and institution and (c) in each individual student, as a complex system of systems - intellectual, emotional and physical.  Thisresearch suggests the importance of (a) sustaining student motivation during the often 6-8 year period of study and (b) ensuring an early and successful acculturation into the academic department. (Reseracher: Elaine Parent, see The Academic Game: Psychological Strategies for Successfully Completing the Doctorate,.)

Technological Mediation of Learning and Development Among Teachers and Future Teachers

Jim Levin (UCSD Education Studies) explores the ways in which technology can be used to improve education, particularly the ways new technologies fundamentally change the relationship between education and society. Specifically, his research examines in detail the variety of mediators of learning and development, both conventional and those provided by new technologies, focusing on the ways that these multiple mediators interact with each other in promoting or hindering learning and development.  Models of mediation are constructed with multi-agent-based modeling tools, and these models are evaluated by comparison with process data of interactions among teachers, teacher educators, and student teachers.

Inducing Theoretically Guided Practice Among Undergraduates

All UClinks activities, by virtue of their core structure, involve undergraduates in the process of educating younger people. This involvement goes far beyond the usual role of observer or teacher’s assistant, because the undergrads play a central role in constructing the activities that they then engage in with the children. They are taught to document their work in professional detail. This arrangement appears to induce a unique form of theory-practice education marked changes in undergraduate’s conceptual grasp of the materials, greater ability to mediate activity at the sites through a theoretical lens as a tool of their own, a marked change in attitude toward economically less fortunate and unfamiliar ethnic groups, and greater focus on their own educational goals in relation to work,  are all major topics of study. In the past few years we have been able to document these kinds of changes through a qualitative analysis of undergraduate field notes and special reflection papers that they themselves write on the basis of their field notes Over the past two quarter we have conducted pre and post tests of undergraduate development in these classes based on Q-sort methods that yield a quantitative profile of each undergraduate’s understandings and attitudes toward issues that we know, on the basis of prior analyses, arise routinely in the practicum classes. An immediate goal for this work is to replicate the initial results, in which the quantitative results appear to converge with the qualitative self evaluations arrived at by narrative techniques. If the replication is successful, we will be in a position to conduct a true experiment with pre and post test measures on students attending practicum and non-practicum style classes focused on the same intellectual content. (Researchers: Michael Cole, Deborah Wilson; (for preliminary results see Deborah Wilson's paper on using Qsort to assess attitutde changes in undergraduates who participate in Fifth Dimension projects. For a related paper examining border work in the Fifth Dimension.)

Using New Media to Promote Cognitive Change and Academic Achievement back to top 

All of the above projects share a focus on the meditational means and social structuring of activity needed to understand/promote learning and development. Studies in this cluster of projects focus on teaching/learning, development-enhancing  education where the participants are physically separated from each other by great distances. Thus, use of inexpensive means of collaborating closely in teaching and research combined with social organization of instruction has naturally captured our attention, especially at the level of higher education. Projecting Expertise to Promote Conceptual Development in Informal Learning Environments . A major shortcoming of multiple attempts by NSF and other national level organizations to create useful science activities for use in informal afterschool setting such as youth clubs is that the implementers of the activity understand the associated concepts to shallowly to make them intellectually stimulating to children. In this work we team with colleagues from Tufts University (Science Education) and the University of Colorado (Physics) seeking to understand how cheap internet video combined with cutting edge programming environments designed for children, can induce deep conceptual change in 8 year olds. This work has succeed in creating an existence proof of such practices and is currently expanding its activities. (Researchers:  University of Colorado, Boulder: Noah Finkelstein, Laurel MayhewTufts University: Brian Gravel, Chris Rogers, William Church; UCSD: Michael Cole, Robert Lecusay)

Growing Multi-media Discursive Spaces for International Polylogue

Beginning in approximately 1984, in conjunction with the reorganization of LCHC we began to conduct an international, internet-mediated forum that has expanded along with the internet itself.  Now using the acronym,  XMCA , this discussion has grown into an interactive forum for a community of interdisciplinary scholars who share an interest in the study of human mind in its cultural and historical contexts. Our emphasis is on research that seeks to resolve methodological problems associated with the analysis of human socially embedded activity and theoretical approaches that place culture and activity at the center of attempts to understand human nature. Our participants come from all over the world and a variety of disciplines, including anthropology, cognitive science, education, linguistics, psychology and sociology. This forum has itself become the subject of research. Two earlier papers summarized features of the discourse archived there (Gack, Vanessa and Noah Finkelstein, 1992.

The seeds of XLCHC.

Unpublished manuscript; Eva Ekeblad (1998) Contact, Community and Multilogue: Electronic Communication in the Practice of Scholarship). At present we are waiting to hear from the MacArthur foundation about an effort to create a multi-media scholarly research facility by expanding the functionality of XMCA to link to relevant bibliographic references, web-accessible printed articles, and a growing collection of digital lectures and symposia.

Engaging Russian and American Youth in Joint Activities Using the Internet

This project,  conducted between 2004 and 2005, was called "The Wizard of Internet City."  It was supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development under auspices of its Foundation for Russian American Economic Cooperation (FRAEC). The main partners were The Institute of Education in the Siberian city of Ussirisk and LCHC, working with local community youth organizations. The project was focused on a joint search for new forms of informal education that would induce teenagers including at-risk teens to get involved in productive social activities, to increase their knowledge of the technology, foreign language ability, and to broaden their professional potential. In addition to experimenting with a variety of ways to get youth in both countries engaged with each other, the research explored the development of new methods of incorporating the twiki technology into the educational process.   
            It proved possible to motivate teen participation and to use the twiki technology, although the short (1 year) duration of the program made it impossible to develop what we considered deep international collaboration among the youth involved. The project was positively evaluated by FRAEC, but AID's funding priorities changed and all projects in this program were halted. (Principle investigators were Alexander Chizhik and Michael Cole; a summary of Professor Chizik's visit to the Ussirisk site can be accessed here. Sample web pages constructed by the student participants: Cultural Life, Russian Library, Children's Art School, Ussuriysk State Pedagogical Institute, Feng Shu, Travelling in Russia, VDV 75.)

Past Projects back to top

Primary Education, Culture, and Cognitive Processes of Yucatec Mayan Children   back to top

This project links researchers and students from six different colleges and universities in Mexico and the United States . The basic focus of the research is to determine if there are ways to leverage the indigenous linguistic and cultural resources of the residents of a Yucatecan Mayan village to enhance the education of their children in a school system where Spanish and the uniform national curriculum of Mexico are standard. The US researchers include experts in the Mayan language and local culture in Illinois and an expert on leveraging indigenous funds of knowledge for promoting education in Arizona , as well as the researchers at LCHC. The researchers and students in the Yucatan carry out investigations in a local village where Cole conducted related research 30 years ago to better understand the linguistic practices in the children's classrooms and homes and the attitudes towards Mayan language and culture characteristic of the children's parents and teachers. The Mexican team participated in regular seminars with researchers and students from four different U.S. universities. (Co-PIs: Mike Cole & Juan Carlos Mijangos Noh; Collaborators: Suzanne Gaskins, Virginia Gordon, John Lucy, Luis Moll; Graduate Students: Patricia Azuara, Robert Lecusay, Luis Cerveto Robles, Fabiola Romero).


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