Constructing virtual worlds: Tracing the historical development of learner practices

Sasha A. Barab, Kenneth E. Hay, Michael Barnett, Kurt Squire

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

125 Scopus citations


This study explores learning and instruction within a technology-rich, collaborative, participatory learning environment by tracking the emergence of shared understanding and products through student and teacher practices. The focus is not only on the interactions among students or between students and teachers, but on student-resource interactions, especially student-technology interactions. In a 1-week camp, students worked in activity groups with 3-dimensional modeling software to develop virtual worlds. Holistic accounts of 2 activity groups in the camp are presented, emphasizing the focus of the activity, group dynamics including the role of the teacher, and the historical development of learner practices. Then, a network methodology is used to trace the history of interactions accounting for the emergence, evolution, and diffusion of learner practices. The findings suggest that becoming knowledgeably skillful with respect to a particular practice or concept is a multigenerational process, evolving in terms of contextual demands and available resources. The tracings further reveal the reciprocal nature of learning and doing, with building conceptual understanding occurring in relation to local conditions and practices, and doing practices being a part of student learning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)47-94
Number of pages48
JournalCognition and Instruction
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology


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