Learning Through Collaborative Visualization Project (CoVis).

General Project Description:
CoVis or Learning Through Collaborative Visualization Project is described as "an integrated software environment that incorporates visualization tools for open-ended scientific investigations and communication tools for both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration" (Edelson, Pea & Gomez, 1996, p.161). Participating high school students are involved in authentic scientific practice using modified versions of scientists' tools in a social context including students, teachers and scientists. Communication and collaboration are the central components of the philosophy behind the project. Project activities centre around three scientific visualization environments covering three aspects of atmospheric science. Students can access and manipulate data, generate questions, develop plans for identifying and exploring data as well as create artifacts to demonstrate their findings.

Multiple perspectives X
Student-directed goals X
Teachers as coaches X
Metacognition X
Learner control X
Authentic activities & contexts X
Knowledge construction X
Knowledge collaboration X
Previous knowledge constructions X
Problem solvingX
Consideration of errorsX
Exploration X
Apprenticeship learningX
Conceptual interrelatedness X
Alternative viewpointsX
Scaffolding X
Authentic assessment X
Primary sources of dataX

The following list indicates the way in which the characteristics were accommodated or supported:

  1. Multiple perspectives:
    The collaboration and communication as well as the wide vary of tools used and data accessed provide students with many angles and many perspectives in their scientific investigations.

  2. Student-directed goals:
    Students can "choose their own topics" for investigation (p.157). They "generate their own questions, develop their own plans", and "create their own artifacts" (p.158).

  3. Teachers as coaches:
    The teacher's role in CoVis is described as that of a guide, participant and facilitator. Teachers establish a culture of communication. The teacher as participant brings a content expertise that can be shared with students (p.153). Teachers are not engaged in direct instruction.

  4. Metacognition:
    Students are provided with the opportunity to "compare their own thought processes" with more expert practitioners (p.156). Students use a "Collaboratory Notebook" which provides insight into students' thought processes and makes these processes explicit (p.159).

  5. Learner control:
    Students pose their own research questions, investigate them, create their own images and demonstrate their conclusions (p.155).

  6. Authentic activities & contexts:
    Students have access to the same research tools and data sets used by leading-edge scientists in the field. 1

  7. Knowledge construction:
    The project does not rely on transmission of knowledge. Instead, learners are engaged in collaborative, scientific investigations in which they build a knowledge and understanding of the scientific process in general and of scientific phenomenon specifically.

  8. Knowledge collaboration:
    Social interaction and knowledge sharing form the basis of the project. Students collaborate with teachers and with scientists through an electronic network. An important goal is to create a "scientific community". Students also share their work with each other (p.159).

  9. Previous knowledge constructions:
    The collaborative nature of this project allows students to compare their knowledge, beliefs and understandings with those of scientists and with other students. The student can consult actual representations of data and scientific phenomenon in order to test, question, investigate, adapt or compare his/her personal knowledge.

  10. Problem solving:
    The knowledge acquired is dicated by the problems to be solved. CoVis provides a rich, extensive environment in which students engage in a process of formulating and testing hypotheses.

  11. Consideration of errors:
    Through collaboration with each other and through guidance with teachers, students' scientific misconceptions are considered in order to build understanding of scientific concepts and of the scientific process (p.158).

  12. Exploration:
    The use of scientific visualization tools provides an environment for "open-ended exploration" (p.155).

  13. Apprenticeship learning:
    Students participate in "work-based learning communities" where they learn the practices of a discipline or profession. (2)

  14. Conceptual interrelatedness:
    The project uses a wide range of tools, data & authentic sources to indicate the natural complexity of the interrelated concepts and variables present in both the scientic process and in the phenomenon being studied.

  15. Alternative viewpoints:
    Students are provided with varying data sources and can compare results through direct communication with different scientists. They can also compare and discuss their work with other students.

  16. Scaffolding:
    A four-step process is used to assist students in developing the expertise to work with scientific visualization (p.155). Learners begin at a level appropriate to their "current competency". "As the learner's understanding and competence increase, he or she is able to participate in more central, and therefore less peripheral, practice..." (p.153)

  17. Authentic assessment:
    Both formative and summative evaluation is used. The Collaboratory Notebook provides teachers with a means to conduct "non-intrusive, just-in-time assessment of students` work".(3)

  18. Primary sources of data:
    Through the scientific visualizations, students can view "massive amounts of data". The data is presented 'holistically'. Animated sequences show progression over time. Use of color & shape illustrate the interaction of variables (p.154).


Edelson, D. Pea, R. & Gomez, L. (1996). Constructivism in the collaboratory. In Wilson, B. (Ed.). Constructivist learning environments: Case studies in instructional design (pp.151-164). New Jersey: Educational Technology Publications.

Learning Through Collaborative Visualization Project (CoVis).
Available at:

(1) Learning Through Collaborative Visualization (CoVis)
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(2) Using the World Wide Web to Build Learning Communities in K-12
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(3)The Collaboratory Notebook
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This site was created by Elizabeth Murphy, Summer, 1997.