You are here:

Computer support for learning in collaborative contexts: prompted hypothesis testing in physics


Computers & Education Volume 30, Number 3, ISSN 0360-1315 Publisher: Elsevier Ltd


An enormous amount of work has been carried out into the ways in which computers can support collaboration in the service of learning. Less attention has been paid to computer support for learning when collaboration is non-problematic, yet this is arguably of equal significance. Recognizing this, the present paper reports software which was developed to help collaborating pupils test hypotheses, an activity thought by many to be relevant to conceptual learning. The software addressed hypotheses relating to: (a) the factors which influence the pressure of water; and (b) the factors which influence the formation of shadows. It required collaborating pupils to formulate hypotheses about such factors, decide which factors must be manipulated to check correctness, formulate predictions about outcomes prior to testing, observe the results of tests, and draw conclusions across test series. Pupils were asked to input their decisions at key points as they used the software, and they received prompts to the extent that their decisions were inappropriate. The prompts became increasingly explicit as inappropriate decisions persisted. The paper describes the use of the software by 9–14-year-old pupils, comparing their activity with that of similarly aged pupils who worked with otherwise equivalent software which lacked any prompts. Evidence is presented for the value of prompting, with implications not simply for the use of hypothesis testing as an instructional strategy but also for the design of computer-based support for other complex and co-ordinated activities.


Howe, C. & Tolmie, A. (1998). Computer support for learning in collaborative contexts: prompted hypothesis testing in physics. Computers & Education, 30(3), 223-235. Elsevier Ltd. Retrieved January 28, 2023 from .

This record was imported from Computers & Education on January 30, 2019. Computers & Education is a publication of Elsevier.

Full text is availabe on Science Direct: