"Healthy Eating" as a 4 Ts model

The 4 Ts model has been developed to support pedagogical planning and decision making in the Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) design process. An extensive description of the development process and rationale which brought to identify the 4 Ts and a discussion of the 4Ts components can be found in Pozzi and Persico (this issue). Here it is enough saying that the model looks at Task, Teams, Technology and Time as the four main components the CSCL designer focuses on: while designing an online collaborative learning activity, s/he defines the nature of the Task students will be asked to carry out, chooses the Teams composition and interaction modes, and identifies the phases of the activity by providing the overall Time schedule. Technology, i.e. the medium through which interactions will occur, is also a crucial component the designer is required to define during the CSCL design process.

In the 4Ts model, the designer juggles with these 4 components, with no pre-determined or mandatory order: each decision concerning any of the four dimensions is influenced by the others and, at the same time, impacts on them, so that each time the designer takes a decision, s/he has to come back to the other dimensions, to check what the consequences are. So, overall, during pedagogical planning one would expect the system to guide the designer interacting with the 4 Ts and within their mutual relationships, by leading her to repeatedly jump from one dimension to another and from one relationship to another, in such a way to fine tune the design in an iterative way.

While such design process is rather messy, the output of such a process is usually rather clear and tidy. While the original representation of the 4Ts is aimed to represent the former (the design process), the representation provided in the following aims to capture the latter (i.e. the outcome of the design process itself). This is in line with the aim of this paper, where, rather than representing different ways to carry out the design process, we intend to provide different representations of an already existing design (i.e. the ‘healthy eating’ scenario) for sharing and communication purposes.

In order to accomplish this task, we felt the need for a different type of representation, aimed to reflect the enactment of what has been previously designed. The Figure below shows one possible representation, namely a swim lane describing Lesson 2 of the ‘healthy-eating’ scenario.

As one may see, the focus on the 4 Ts is still visible: Task, Teams, Technology and Time are the four main swim lanes.

The Task lane contains the name of the Task itself; the Teams column is divided into two sub-columns, one for the teacher and one for students’ groups (but it could contain other actors if needed). The symbols chosen to represent the students‘ teams provide details about the social structure(s) foreseen in the Task: the little circle on the left specifies the number of students per group, while the little circle on the right specifies the total number of groups. If the task is individual, there is only the main circle. Such symbolism allows the reader to gain at a first glance the most important information about the social structure and the Team(s) composition.
Under Technology, one may find information about the input resources provided to students to carry out the Task, as well as the environment, including the functionalities through which interactions will occur, and the output resources produced by students during Task accomplishment. Lastly, Time specifies the duration of each Task, while information about division in phases is provided graphically by the presence of different rows within the same Task.

While producing this representation, we made a number of choices based on the aim of keeping the 4 Ts at the forefront, in such a way that the representation is able to provide the reader a bird’s-eye view on how the four dimensions of the model could be orchestrated in Lesson 2 of the ‘healthy eating’ scenario:

  • we chose to have 4 types of lanes, one for each of our T, sometimes differentiating them in sub-lanes;
  • we chose to give names to Tasks (‘Introduction’, ‘Choose a method’, ‘Choose questions’, etc.) and use them as the leading dimension of this representation, i.e. those defining the “temporal sequence” of the activities (note that in this particular Lesson there are no parallel or optional tasks, but this could be easily accommodated by splitting the Task swim lane in two to represent parallel activities or by drawing a swim lane where a task can be skipped, in case of optional activities);
  • for each Task, we tackled the problem of how to represent the different social structures needed. In this Lesson we needed to represent small groups, but also the whole class, as well as individual work. To reflect such variety of social structures, we felt the need to include information about the students’ teams, such as size and number of teams, but also the presence of teachers and their role in the activity;
  • the Technology was not easy to represent: this is because in this Lesson students use different system functionalities and even affordances that are outside the system (email), so we chose to be as specific as possible based on the information provided by the original design;
  • the Time component should provide, ideally, an hypothesis of the time needed to carry out the various phases of each Task. In the narrative of Lesson 2, time was sometimes allocated to the overall task, sometimes allocated to a single phase and this is reflected in the representation;
  • overall, the process of inferring information about the 4Ts starting from the narrative was relatively easy and successful.
In the end, we were able to fully represent Lesson 2 of the ‘healthy eating’ scenario in terms of the 4 Ts and the exercise turned out to be challenging and useful at the same time, as it gave us the opportunity to reflect on the ability of the 4Ts to represent scenarios, even in cases, such as the one considered here, that are not completely oriented to collaborative Tasks. As a matter of fact, our feeling is that this particular learning scenario doesn’t take full advantage of the 4Ts affordances, because the activity described isn’t a fully fledged collaborative activity; nevertheless, the 4Ts model has proved to be flexible enough to express the specificity of this inquiry based scenario.


Persico, D., & Pozzi, F. (2011). Task, Team and Time to structure online collaboration in learning environments. World Journal on Educational Technology, 3 (1), 1 – 15.

Pozzi, F., Persico, D., Dimitriadis, Y., Joubert, M., Tissenbaum, M., Tsovaltzi, D., Voigt, C. & Wise, A. (2011). Structuring online collaboration through 3Ts: Task, Time and Teams. White Paper at the STELLAR Alpine Rendez-Vous 2011.