Computers have been used for years to facilitate learning at a distance. Now, a new European Union research program shows that computers also can enhance collaborative, face-to-face learning and problem solving, reports Science Daily. An EU-funded research initiative called LEAD has shown that students can solve problems, master subject matter, and learn to collaborate more effectively when their face-to-face communication is enhanced by specific software tools. That’s important, according to LEAD coordinator Jerry Andriessen, because individual learning and problem solving alone do not prepare students adequately for the interactive and collaborative settings they’ll encounter later in life. The software tool the LEAD team created is an open-source program called CoFFEE, for Collaborative Face to Face Educational Environment. Typically, students use CoFFEE as part of a structured, face-to-face problem solving challenge. The students are in the same classroom and can talk to each other, but each student also has a computer running the CoFFEE interface. "In the past," says Andriessen, "it would be typical for one student to do most of the work, and for there to be very little interaction and collaboration." CoFFEE, however, boosts cooperative problem solving through a suite of tools that help each student analyze and understand the problem and make sure that every student has the opportunity to contribute to its solution. CoFFEE’s two primary tools for students–a discussion manager and a visualization interface–complement each other by fostering verbal communication and clear visual representation of the problem and its solution…

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