The influence of learner characteristics on degree and type of participation in a CSCL environment
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Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) is often presented as a promising learning method. However, it is also facing some new challenges. Apart from answering the question of whether or not working with CSCL generates satisfying learning outcomes, it is important to determine whether or not all participants profit from collaboration, with the computer as a means of communication. This paper describes the implementation and effects of an experimental program in 5 classes with a total of 120 students in elementary education who, in groups of four, engaged in Knowledge Forum discussion tasks on the subject of healthy eating. The study explores whether or not differences occur in the participation of students who differ in gender, sociocultural background and ability, and whether or not computer skills, computer attitudes, comprehensive reading scores and popularity with classmates are related to student participation. Students’ participation in this CSCL environment appears to be dependent on a number of learner characteristics. Girls contribute more words to the discussions than boys do and are more dependent on their computer skills in this production. Students who are good at comprehensive reading also contribute more words. Popularity among classmates appears to influence the degree of participation further. We also found indications that students with immigrant parents write fewer contributions than those whose parents are not immigrants.