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2.6 Shared cognitive load

When two subjects collaborate, they often share the cognitive burden implied by the task. Spontaneously the group distributes the cognitive sub-tasks over individuals. We do not refer to the cooperative protocol in which the task is in advance split into sub-tasks that partners solve independently. This systematic division of labour does not correspond to our definition of collaboration, in which two or more subjects build synchronously and interactively a joint solution to some problem. However, it has been observed that some spontaneous distribution of roles occur in some collaborative tasks. Often, one subject performed the low-level operations while the other step back and monitors the activities oh his partner [14]. In computer-based tasks, the routine tasks are often played by the partner who holds the mouse. This distribution varies over time, the roles shift frequently, for instance, when one subject takes the mouse from his partner's hands [15]. This spontaneous process can be viewed at a higher scale as a economical principle: the group, as a system, tries to avoid redundancies. We come back on that point later. This division of labour enables each partner to devote more resources to the task allocated to him.

In terms of distance technology, the shared cognitive load implies a flexible turn taking. However, some scholars have set up efficient learning activities despite a rather rigid protocol. Brown and Palincsar [16] defined the 'reciprocal teaching method' and applied it to reading skills. One learner plays the 'teacher role' for a while, asking questions to the other in order to assess his understanding of the last sentences. For the next paragraph, the tutee becomes tutor and vice-versa. With this method, they obtained spectacular outcomes.

ICCAI 95 article - 08 FEB 95
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