Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, No.4, 383-391
Published Online August 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 383
On Fostering a Co-Creative Process within a CSCL Framework
Jose Rafael Rojano-Caceres1, Fernando Ramos-Quintana2, María Dolores Vargas-Cerdán1
1Facultad de Estadística e Informática, Universidad Veracruzana, Xalapa, Mexico
2División de Ingeniería y Ciencias, Tecnológico de Monterrey-Campus Cuernavaca, Cuernavaca, Mexico
Received June 7th, 2012; revised July 10th, 2012; accepted July 22nd, 2012
In this article is introduced a co-creative process fostered by a Collaborative Learning Framework which
pursues to engage peers of students in a synchronous collaborative dynamic to build the knowledge by
representing it by a formal digraph called Networks of Concepts (NoC). This digraph, the NoC, allows
building and representing the knowledge in a synthetic way, while the co-creative process aims at devel-
oping cognitive skills and collaborative attitudes as essential part of 21st century skills for students.
Nowadays, the Collaborative Learning Framework has been and is currently being used in Mexican uni-
versities in different undergraduate programs such as Industrial Engineering, Computer Science, Sociol-
ogy, Accounting, Business Administration, and Molecular Biology; in this article we analyze and discuss
a particular case of an example in the Engineering program. Thus, the analyzed digraphs are the outcome
of a co-creative process that is carried out through synchronous-mode argumentation and shared interac-
tions by peers of students.
Keywords: Co-Creative Process; CSCL; Network of Concepts; Cognitive Skills
Nowadays, Mexican universities, as many others abroad, are
concerned with applying models that allow them to improve
learning processes; consequently, one significant change is the
student-centered learning approach instead of the teacher-cen-
tered learning approach. However, the student-centered learn-
ing approach requires that students develop several skills that
allow them not only to learn new topics but also to apply pre-
viously learned knowledge to find solutions to real problems in
a cyclic way throughout their whole lifes. According to our
experience, a basic set of cognitive skills that could allow stu-
dents to become lifelong learners is composed of analysis, syn-
thesis, abstraction, structuring among some of the most impor-
tant (Ramos-Quintana, Sámano-Galindo, & Zárate-Silva, 2008).
Additionally, we consider social skills like communicating,
interacting and collaborating, all of them essentials in the 21st
century Education paradigm.
Thus, to foster these skills, we have created a Collaborative
Learning Framework (CLF) composed by the stages of rein-
forcement, acquisition and assessment of knowledge, as shown
in Figure 1. The reinforcement stage aims at emphasizing
knowledge that has been acquired previously as a part of a
course. The acquisition stage aims at promoting the responsi-
bility of the students of their own learning by dealing with Ill
Structured Problem (ISP) (Jonassen, 1997). Finally, the assess-
ment stage looks for creating self-consciousness of perform-
ance achieved by means of a peer-review process. However,
what makes this framework accessible and more attractive to
students and teachers is that it fosters and encourages skills by a
co-creative process mediated by computers.
The Collaborative Learning Framework
The Collaborative Learning Framework is inspired in social-
constructivism (Vygotsky, 1978), problem-based learning
(Barrows, 1985; Barrows & Tamblyn, 1980; Koschman, Fel-
tovich, Myers, & Barrows, 1992), self-directed learning (Gar-
rison, 1992; Gibbons, 2002), and collaborative learning (Dil-
lenbourg, Baker, Blaye, & O’Malley, 1996; Dillenbourg, 1999)
theories to integrate a proposal that pursues fostering cognitive
skills. Because of them, the framework outcomes in our CLF
are not the result of an individual but two individuals that by
social interactions (Goodsell, Maher, Tinto, Leigh, & Mac-
Gregor, 1992) write and exchange messages and sharea space
to co-construct creatively an agreed Network of Concepts
(NoC); such consensus is supported by a totally-ordered se-
quence of messages that represents a dialog with a precise goal:
to reinforce knowledge previously learned or acquire new
knowledge and assess it. Thus, both dialogs and NoC are out-
comes that can become the object of further analysis and
evaluation by teachers. Network of Concepts is the name that
we assign to a directed graph (digraph) that represents the
Figure 1.
The general stages in the Collaborative Learning Frame work (CLF).
knowledge being reinforced, acquired or assessed, which are
the main tread of this article. Figures 8 and 9, in the appendix
section, are both examples of full Network of Concepts created
by students.
This framework as an instructional strategy, on the one hand,
deals with Problem Based Learning (PBL) because its intrinsic
capacities for the development of Self-Directed Learning (SDL)
and because of their potential to develop cognitive skills during
the process of solving the involved problems. On the other hand,
the CLF deals also with Network of Concepts, which among its
characteristics has a bottom-up methodology that allows sys-
tematically, integrate and develop cognitive skills during the
building process. Such methodology is introduced later.
Thus, to foster self-directed learners with their associated
skills to be developed, we provide them with appropriate sce-
narios with which they become familiarized concerning the
strategies proposed as well as the guidance of the teacher, who
is responsible for defining the topics to be reinforced, acquired
or assessed by following either or not in a sequential way the
stages shown in Figure 1. In spite of the fact that the stages of
the CLF should be performed sequentially, from stage I to stage
III, it is possible to insert the assessment stage once reinforce-
ment has been applied. If such is the case, the teacher decides
whether the student promotes the peer-review process on an
early stage.
Description of Stages and Activities within the CLF
We attempted to build the CLF as simple as possible, then
during our exploratory steps we found that trying to learn new
topics and build network of concepts at the same time could be
disappointing for most of the students. Therefore, it is very
important considering how they feel with respect to the process,
as Shaw points (Shaw, 1991), for that reason we introduced the
reinforcement stage allowing students to become familiar with
the methodology to build Network of Concepts, as well as with
the computer tools, at the time they could reduce cognitive load
by exploring a topic previously seen.
Thus, reinforcement stage allows practicing how to use pre-
viously-learned knowledge by summarizing a topic previously
seen under a representation of a Network of Concepts (NoC),
where two students build co-creatively such NoC in a shared
space through written argumentations in a chat tool. By work-
ing in teams, students get help from each other by recalling and
building concepts together. Eventually, they can learn to nego-
tiate their positions and common understandings. At this stage,
it is expected that a facilitator will intervene to give them feed-
back about the work being done.
The second stage allows students to demonstrate the under-
standing of a new topic by converting the statement of an Ill
Structured Problem (ISP) (Goel, 1992), which was provided by
a facilitator, into a clear or well structure problem (WSP)
(Jonassen, 1997). The gap between the ISP and the WSP repre-
sents the knowledge to be learned. So, an ISP is provided as a
starter containing vaguely key underlying concepts and rela-
tions between them that form part of the topic. The students
should seek to complete the rest of the concepts and to build
relationships between them until they have achieved a complete
structure that represents synthetically the knowledge of the
topic. The proof that students have reached a higher level of
knowledge is when they are capable of converting the statement
associated with the Ill Structured Problem into a Well Struc-
tured Problem. During this process a set of cognitive skills such
as those mentioned before is elicited (Ramos-Quintana, Sámano-
Galindo, & Zárate-Silva, 2008). Thus, students should reach
new knowledge by undertaking any activity that leads to the
solution; meanwhile, the teacher facilitates the process by giv-
ing his/her point of view.
The third stage looks at stimulating argumentative dialogs
between students by questioning the completeness of a Network
of Concepts. To guide the discussion, teachers can provide
students with a checklist similar to that used in Formal Techni-
cal Reviews (FTR) (Pressman, 2002). It is important to note
that this stage does not include assigning a grade, but rather a
critic of the work by another dyad and later a self-critic of the
team’s own work demonstrating acquired experience. Thus,
dyads do not evaluate their own Network of Concepts but they
do evaluate the work of another dyad; later, all dyads receive
comments about their work and then they can decide to make
changes to their work or simply dis miss these co mments.
The overall activities implied in the framework are shown in
Figure 2, and explained herein:
1) Decide the initial statement, as we imply, is a teacher’s
task since he/she decided the topic according to the specific
activity of reinforcement or acquisition of knowledge.
2) Listing underlying concepts is a student’s activity since
after performing some recall/analysis he/she can list the under-
lying concepts. It is important to mention that this activity is
carried-out individually by students.
3) Making relationships is an activity that is carried-out by
teams or dyads, because through the exchange of messages they
try to make an agreement about the assembling. Particularly
this process conveys the synthesis action because duplicate
concepts can be drop off. In addition, the task of creating sig-
nificant relationships can be very challenge, as explained later
in section Building Network of Concepts.
4) Building the network is the activity where semantic units
are assembled to produce an abstraction of the topic. It requires
structuring such units that make sense, as an example of this
semantic unit see Figure 3(b).
5) Reviewing the network is an activity that can be made by
students or teachers; in any case, the review can provide a
feedback about the possible corrective actions or general sug-
gestions about the correctness or completeness of the network.
6) Questioning is the activity to appreciate or judge the
comments given by others in order to decide if these are valu-
able and accurate or just desert to dismiss it, as a result it could
produce a restructuring on the network.
Therefore, the overall activities are encompassed by a set of
cognitive skills to be developed and which are showed in
dashed rectangles over each stage. In the following section, we
talk about the process to build a NoC and some aspects about
the co-creative process are exposed.
Building Network of Concepts
The Network of Concepts is a directed bipartite graph, bor-
rowed from Petri Nets notation (Diaz, 2009). Petri Nets are a
mathematical formalism that allows modeling concurrent sys-
tem, which with further analysis can provide with information
about structure and dynamic behavior (Peterson, 1981). Their
notation defines the use of two types of nodes represented by
circles (called places) and rectangles (called transitions), then
this nodes are joined by directed links (called arcs). In our
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 385
Figure 2.
The overall activities carried-out by participants in the framework are denoted by the directed chart; over each activity there is a dashed rectangle that
reflects the current skill being us ed.
A Methodology for Building Networks of Concepts
notation, circles are used to denote concepts; rectangles are
used to denote meaningful relationships which are used to se-
mantically provide a link between concepts. Finally, directed
links are used to create a physical connection between concepts
and in this way create semantic units. Thereby, several inter-
connected semantic units form a NoC. Graphically the Figure 3,
reading from bottom to up denotes such steps. In Figure 3(c),
we have concepts and relationship scattered, In Figure 3(b), we
have created semantics units, and in Figure 3(a), we have a
full/partial network of concept. Behind the formalism that sus-
tains NoC’s, what makes the process feasible to students and
teachers is the fact that it is a socialized process where in any
NoC is the creative result of not only one individual, but also of
two individuals, who co-creatively build a model.
The Network of Concepts is built by following a bottom-up
methodology (Ramos-Quintana, Sámano-Galindo, & Zárate-
Silva, 2008a), wherein, at the bottom level, students list a set of
underlying concepts, at the next level, they link pairs of under-
lying concepts, and, at the top level, the whole Network of
Concepts is assembled. During this process, students will need
to analyze which underlying concepts are important so as to
keep them in the shared space; later, they will need to create
structures with semantic meaning as shown in rule (1). At the
same time, they are synthesizing knowledge and an important
exercise of analysis will allow them to link correctly the struc-
tures. As they move along, assembling the network, they create
higher abstractions. Throughout this process, the argumentation
is an important exercise to establish an adequate coordination
between dyads.
On the other hand, NoC’s are different from other more com-
mon graph representations like Conceptual Maps (CM) (On-
toria Peña et al., 1992) mainly for the use of relationships as
semantic operators, which are defined in our work either static
or dynamic. Such distinction is denoted by coloring each rec-
tangle as white or black respectively. Dynamic relationships
imply “execution”, “processing” or “transforming actions”; this
means that a certain concept c1 is transformed into a concept c2
through a dynamic relationship r1, as expressed by the rule (1)
shown below.
As a brief example of this process, we can see in Figure 3
the building of a NoC from the bottom to the top level.
Mediation Tools for the Collaborative Learning
The Collaborative Learning Framework (CLF) was con-
ceived as a synchronous-mode environment where students,
distributed physically without face-to-face contact, work to-
gether to achieve a particular goal. For this reason, the uses of
boards, forums or email are not suitable computational tools.
Another idea was the use and interpretation of dialogs (the se-
quence of exchanged messages) to determine behavior patterns
during the process of building the NoC’s (Ramos-Quintana,
Sámano-Galindo, & Zárate-Silva, 2008a; Ramos-Quintana,
Sámano-Galindo, & Zárate-Silva, 2008b). Therefore the use of
chat is a suitable tool of communication. On the other hand, it
(c1) tadpole (r1) metamorphosis (c2) frog (1)
Semantically we could understand this rule as: if a tadpole
undergoes a metamorphosis, then it will be transformed into a
Meanwhile, static relationships denote some reference or
characteristic to another concept that does not imply a trans-
formation. For example, it can be used to stay the fact that “the
sun is a star”, such representation is straightforward. a
Figure 3.
Example of building a NoC at different levels of abstraction. (a) A full-assembled network of concepts at the top level; (b) Basic semantic units by
related concepts in the middle level; (c) List of underl ying concepts in the bottom level.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
is necessary to have the possibility of dra wing the network into
a shared space where participants can observe and participate in
the modifications; then a shared blackboard is an adequate tool
to achieve this goal.
Nevertheless, the use of a piece of paper and face-to-face
chat between peers can be a common practice to break the ice
and introduce the methodology. Besides, when it is not possible
to use technology, the Collaborative Learning Framework can
go on during some sessions with this approach, but the benefits
of registering and tracking process would not be achieved.
Technologically speaking, at the beginning, we used Free-
styler (Giemza & Ziebarth, 2008) because it allowed us to keep
a record of activities. However, this tool does not provide much
control to the teacher; so students could interfere with other
sessions and damage the creative process. Nonetheless, it is a
good Java™-based tool, for some users present annoyances for
configuring their IP address and plug-in. For that reason, we
decided to create a Web-based prototype. This tool is called the
Collaborative Distributed Tool (CDT) (Rojano-Caceres, Ramos-
Quintana, & Garcia-Gaona, 2010) and it is a Rich Internet Ap-
plication (RIA) that can be executed for any web browser that
has the Flash© plug-in. Currently, it is available at collabora- . In Figure 4, it is shown how a
group of students interacts with each other by means of this
An Overview of the Creative Process Based on
the Issued Actions
Within our framework, the dialogs created through ex-
changed messages and graphic construction of the networks of
concepts are not only the probe of creative processes, as Lums-
den argues in (Lumsden, 1999), but also a co-creative process
achieved by two individuals. There are different definitions that
address what creativity is, but generally it is related to the crea-
tion of something new and appropriate (Sternberg & Lubart,
1999; Runco, 2007). By asking to students reinforcing or ac-
quiring a topic and represent it by means of Network of Con-
cepts allows them producing an original and creative represent-
tation according to their own understanding. Along with repre-
sentations, we found that there are not similar network to each
other, which is favorable to the concept of divergent thinking
(Scott & Lyle, 2004) and development of cognitive skills for each
Figure 4.
Peers developing collaborative learning by building networks of con-
cepts, the pairs are not at the same geographic place, thus avoiding a
face-to-face collaborative situation.
individual. Thus, the creative process is involved in both the
interaction between pairs to build the NoC and in the process of
the development of skills. For the latter case, this work consid-
ers the following aspects to be dealt with concerning the crea-
tive process: the statement of an idea to be concretized or a
problem to be solved; the search for relevant pieces to be as-
sembled through an appropriate analysis; the creation of basic
structures, which could be composed of at least two relevant
pieces, by making an important exercise of analysis and syn-
thesis; the assembly of the whole NoC, which implies again an
important exercise of analysis, synthesis and construction of
structures, as we previously stated.
Method for Analyz i ng the Process
We chose as a descriptive example the data of an Engineer-
ing course with 26 students, where 19% were women and the
81% were men, and which were instructed to reinforce the topic
of “Agile Manufacturing”. Such students were physically dis-
tributed to avoiding face-to-face communication during a ses-
sion of two hours long approximately.
Along the time session, dialogs and Network of Concepts
were recorded by our computational tool as they constituent
elements were issued with a time mark of milliseconds. In this
analyze we use the actions issued to create the network and
dismiss the text messages for allowing readability in data.
Therefore, to analyze in general the construction process of
the network we start by plotting the sequence of such constitu-
ent actions occurred in the shared space as shown by Figure 5.
With this view we aim at visualizing how the process of con-
struction took place. As a result we observe that actions occur
in well-defined periods of time where both participants actively
co-construct the network. In the same figure we can observe
that actions are not continuously issued over time, but in com-
pact intervals. This means that there are gaps between groups of
issued actions which denote the process of exchanging mes-
sages where students get involved in discussion, negotiation
and agreement.
To particularize the process, we chose some dyads with few
actions that let us analyze and explain their co-creation process,
also plotting few data enable their full visualization within this
article. Thus, Figures 6 and 7 show the contributions that each
participant made to their respective networks. First, Figure 6
Actions issued o ver tim e
1 112131415161718191101111121131
Figure 5.
Actions issued by thir t e en dyads along a session o f t w o hours.
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 387
shows that participant B6, who is a member corresponding to
dyad 6, makes three groups of compacts actions, and participant
A6 makes three groups also, the rest of actions seems to work
as glue between those groups of actions. We mean by group of
actions the sequen ce of actions issued over the time. For exam-
ple, in Figure 6 at the beginning of the plot there are four con-
secutive actions issued by B6, later, there are two actions issued
by A6 followed by one more action of B6, these intercalated
actions from both participants are what we consider as glue
between groups.
On the other hand, even though Figure 7 shows bigger dis-
continuities than the previous figure and there is more partici-
pation of member A2, who is a member corresponding to dyad
2, participant B2 seems to be an occasional contributor to the
network construction.
In Table 1 we present a summary of actions issued by all
dyads and their subjects as well as the percentage of contribu-
tion of each member with respect to their partner. As a result,
we can observe that in almost all dyads there were contributions
of both members, with the exception of dyad four, where it is
Actions issued by Dyad 6
Dy6 : B 6
Dy6 : A 6
159 131721252933374145495357
Figure 6.
Actions issued by dyad 6. In this figure we observe h o w t h e intercalated
participation of both students B6 and A6 contributes along the process
to co-creatively build the network of concepts.
Actions issued by Dyad 2
Dy2: A 2
Dy2: B 2
1713 19 25 31 37 43 49 55 6167 73 79 85
Figure 7.
Actions issued by dyad 2. In this figure we observe sequence of actions
mainly issued by student A2, while student B2 participates sporadi-
Table 1.
Frequency table for total actions issued by students in dyads.
Frequency Table
Category Count Cumulative Count Percent
B1 52
80 52
132 39.39
B2 72
12 72
84 85.71
B3 32
28 32
60 53.33
B4 67
7 67
74 90.54
B5 8
38 8
46 17.39
B6 28
30 28
58 48.28
B7 54
37 54
91 59.34
B8 53
53 53
106 50.00
B9 39
54 39
93 41.94
B10 70
26 70
96 72.92
B11 134
55 134
189 70.90
B12 20
29 20
49 40.82
B13 59
49 59
108 54.63
clear that the network is the major result of one participant. In
addition, there is the contrasting participation of dyad eight,
where both members contribute uniformly in the co-construc-
At the end of this article, in appendix I, we present the final
Network of Concepts corresponding to both dyads exposed
herein in according to how they understood the topic been re-
inforced (Agile Manufacturing); for dyad 6 see Figure 8, and
for dyad 2 see Figure 9). For each graphical representation, we
can observe that each one is very different, but they share fun-
damental concepts like those cited in (Sanchez & Nagi, 2001)
with respect to Agile Manufacturing, example of these concepts
are adaptability, human factors, competitivity, cooperation, cus-
tomers, e-commerce, technology, and information systems. Par-
ticularly in the case of dyad 2 (Figure 9), the shape of the net-
work attracts our attention because we found that it could be
influenced by a similar scheme from the reading of the article
of Gunasekaran (Gunasekaran, 1998), therefore we dismiss the
idea that the shape of the network were totally new in contrast
to others. But we still consider the process as something new
because of the coordination process to build the network.
Final Considerations
In this article, we exposed how a CSCL framework has pur-
sued fostering a co-creative process for building Networks of
Concepts and how the activities within it develop cognitive
skills. Since 2008, we have applied the framework in under-
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s .
Copyright © 2012 SciRe s . 389
Figure 8.
The full network of concepts created by dyad 6 representing the topic of “Agile Manufacturing” with several appropriated concepts as well as a com-
pact network, which can be c o n s i d e red as synonymous of a good synthesis. The network is transc ripted as created by students.
pants, looking at the quantities we found that students contrib-
ute with different effort and in some cases just one peer takes
all responsibility (e.g. dyad 4 in Table 1) and just in rare cases
actions are fully balanced (e.g. dyad 8 in Table 1). On the other
hand, we have reinforced the idea that the co-creative process
influence on the development of some relevant skills needed for
the lifelong learning and problem solving, as mentioned before.
As a creative goal, a challenge for students is to achieve a Net-
work of Concepts as much semantic expressiveness as possible
by obtaining a topology easily interpretable by third persons,
such as other students and teachers. We mean by a semantic ex-
pressiveness NoC, a network that expresses correctly the linked
concepts and is easily understandable as whole. As we have
seen, the NoC is an abstract and synthetic representation of a
knowledge, whose whole structure is composed of basic struc-
tures semantically correct, which in turn are composed of un-
derlying pieces of knowledge (concepts). Thereby, the process
to achieve the NoC entails the development of skills such as
analysis, synthesis, abstraction, argumentation and construction.
Finally, one of the potential applications of this research is the
capability to evaluate a whole process with objective parame-
ters as those shown here with independence of the knowledge
domain, and the possibility to track structuration process at the
syntactic level given by the groups and time frame identified
in order to mediate the collaboration opportunely. Furtuer
graduate programs of Engineering and Computer Science. Later
in 2010, we extended the framework to include the assessment
stage and we decided to use this framework within different
disciplines to promote their benefits. As a result, we started to
work in other undergraduate programs such as Sociology, Ac-
counting, Business Administration, and Molecular Biology.
Herein, we presented just one particular case for Engineering,
but we found it very remarkable that, in despite of working with
such different disciplines and different sized groups, the devel-
opment of the framework has not been an obstacle, and that the
experience of all the participants (students/teachers) has been in
general positive. During this time, we found that students enjoy
working collaboratively and teachers observed a better assimi-
lation of topics reinforced by the use of the framework.
On the one hand, we exposed how a co-creative process can
be evidenced by plotting the recorded actions from the con-
struction of Network of Concepts by using the “issued action
dimension, and not only by exploring the final outcome that is
presented as original graphical constructions of Network of
Concepts following hierarchical, centralized, arboreal shapes.
Therefore, as a result we found that group of structures are
created in very well defined amounts of time by both partici-
Figure 9.
The full network of concepts created by dyad 2 representing a very peculiar shape as a web. Structurally speaking the main difference is that all con-
cepts are related in the central point as in a spider-web in contrast to more common hierarchical models herein evaluated. The network is transcripted
as created by students.
analysis will be required to establish the adequate syntactic
threshold in such early intervention process.
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