About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Group knowledge

Continuing the paper I am working on, I decided to post the section on group knowledge in response to the presentation by Nancy White, Dave Wilkins, and Mark Sylveter on Online Communities and Architecture. I was surprised at how they touched on much of what I am addressing in this paper.

Creating Shared Knowledge

Before discussing the literature on shared knowledge, it is important that I define what I understand as knowledge. Using a constructivist approach, knowledge is an individual’s construction of meaning through social and ecological interaction. In this definition, an individual creates their own knowledge based on their experiences, perceptions, and beliefs. However, there needs to be some social or environmental interaction which will trigger an individual to reflect on his or her experience before knowledge can be created. In addition, knowledge is dynamic as a result of constant interaction. This is very close to Ragnar Rommetveit’s definition of dialogical meaning making (Hagtvet & Wold, 2003). Knowledge is more than the construction of meaning through social interaction, it is also the individual choices a person makes in creating the meaning based on values, personal attributes, and experience. In addition, the context of knowing is as important as the interaction.

Yakhlef (2002) distinguished between the making of knowledge and the reusing of knowledge (applying what was learned to different contexts). He determined that in reusing knowledge, new understanding and meaning was created. However, society and (in his case) organizations try to capture knowledge through written and physical documentation such as reports, books, software, and other artifacts so as to allow for reuse of the knowledge. The question is, therefore, if knowledge is individually generated what is the use of these artifacts and documentation? The answer is that for individuals to work in groups, there needs to be some shared understanding and meaning. The process of documenting and negotiating meaning (knowledge discourses), moves the artifacts from being to knowing (Hall, Stevens, & Torralba, 2002; Yakhlef, 2002). The artifacts provide a common starting point from which interaction can move, thus creating knowledge. In an online course, the artifact is the course design including the technology, readings, and any other supplemental material such as course links and graphics.
Related to knowledge (cognition) is perspective (social). For Rommetveit, perspective is vital in creating meaning (Hagtvet & Wold, 2003; Mortimer & Wertsch, 2003). Other researchers have identified the ability to take on others perspectives as examples of higher order thinking (Herrington & Oliver, 1999; Jarvela & Hakkinen, 2002; Wegerif, Mercer, & Dawes, 1999). Perspective taking requires that a person be able to understand another’s viewpoint, anticipate their responses, and present their position in such a way as to encourage mutual understanding. Including both social and cognitive elements, dialogue that leads to perspective taking requires intersubjectivity, or the recognition that the other person has a position, whether it is implicit or explicit (Hagtvet & Wold; Mortimer & Wertsch). The higher the level of reciprocity, in which there is an equal exchange of social and cognitive information, the greater the chance to achieve shared understanding (Hagtvet & Wold). However, even with the exchange of information, it is possible that there is a low level of shared understanding.

This is obvious when there are a diversity of values or backgrounds within the group (Jehn, Northcraft, & Neale; Hall, et al., 2002). Individuals come into groups with assumptions about others knowledge and intentions. With group interaction, these assumptions might be confirmed or questioned. When those assumptions are questioned, cognitive dissonance occurs (Karau & Kipling, 1993). An individual can either ignore this dissonance or change to accommodate the internal conflict (Moreland & Levine, 2001; Skitka, 2003). There are many factors that affect an individual’s choice including interdependency with the group, amount of time in the group, the level of trust within the group, external threats to the group, threats to the individual’s social and personal identity, group cohesion, and personal traits such as the level of self confidence, comfort with the topic, and access to resources and knowledge (Hall, et al., 2002; Moreland & Levine; Olivera & Straus, 2004; Simons & Peterson, 2000; Skitka; Waller, Conte, Gibson, & Carpenter, 2001). In negotiating understanding within a group, an individual becomes aware of his or her assumptions and perspectives. Without the dissonance, it is unlikely an individual will create knowledge since they will be unaware of their own assumptions on which their perspective is based (Hagtvet & Wold, 2003). Therefore, multiple perspectives and perspective taking is an important factor to assess in order to understand the individual-group relationship in online learning.

In order for a group to function affectively they must have shared perspectives and assumptions: shared mental models. Shared mental models are the implicit heuristics a group develops to function, allowing members to describe, predict, and explain group processes and behavior (Mohammed & Dumville, 2001). These mental models are shared representations of relationships, the environment, and group tasks (Cannon-Bowers & Salas, 2001; Mohammed & Dumville). Cannon-Bowers and Salas have identified four different types of mental models that can be used depending on the group, goals, task, and context. Shared or overlapping mental models are when all members co-create the same group representation. Even though each individual may initially come with and maintain a different individual mental model about the group task, the group creates a shared vision that defines their work. Groups that have identical or similar mental models are designed with the intention that members come to the group with the same mental representations. Compatible or comparable mental models are when groups are designed to maximize the shared mental model. Like constructing a puzzle, each member will have a piece that when put together, gives a road map to the group process. The main difference between this and the distributed mental model is that the comparable or comparable mental model comes with the pieces already intact. A distributed mental model assigns the responsibility for each piece. If an individual does not already have the mental model of how that piece works, they are responsible for going outside the group to create that piece. These four types of mental models suggest that there are different ways in which groups conceptualize their functions: as a group with equal abilities and effort, designed or through group process, a group that utilizes member strengths, or a group that divides up the process with members responsible for augmenting those areas where they may have gaps.

While shared cognition focuses on what members bring to the group, group learning theories address how individuals create understanding from the group. According to social identity theory, individuals have multiple identities they access in any given context: material, personal, and social. The extent that an individual will contribute to the learning of others in the group depends on which identity is salient in that context. For example, if group cohesion is an important value to the group, an individual might decide to withhold information that could cause group conflict. At this point the individual is accessing his or her social identity in order to maintain group values. However, if this is an important concept for the individual to master, he or she might present the information, knowing that it might negatively affect his or her status in the group. Group learning is a result of the negotiation not only of meaning, but of problem and process construction (Olivera & Straus, 2004; Yakhlef, 2002). Problem construction and solving help to create the boundries within which interaction that promotes group learning takes place (Yakhlef).

Another aspect of group learning is the analysis of shared experience. Through feedback or group correction (based on the feedback), individuals create their own meaning based on the group experience (Mohammad & Dumville, 2001; Mulder, Swaak, & Kessels, 2002; Olivera & Straus, 2004). This analysis of shared experience can be based on individual to group interaction, group to group interaction, group to environment interaction, or intragroup interaction. It is not necessary that an individual be an active participant in the interaction to reap the benefits of group learning (Olivera & Straus). The implication for online learning is that even the lurkers (Mazur, 2004) who are following online discussions but not contributing to them, learn from observing how group members construct and solve problems.
Finally, the contextual and situational factors that are outside the control of the group contribute to how the group mediates understanding for its members. The level of contact between groups, transactive memory within the group, the development of group artifacts or tools, the control of information to and through the group, and the distribution of resources all help to create the boundaries that will define the group (Hall, Stevens, & Torralba, 2002; Mohammed & Dunville, 2001; Moreland & Levine, 2001; Oubenaissa, Giardina, & Bhattacharya, 2002). Not only will these factors allow the group to present its members to those outside, but it will also interpret the outside world to those within the group. Finally, another aspect of the environment is time: duration, timelines, and frequency of interaction. Because groups are dynamic, the time frames in which group work will change both intragroup and individual interaction (McGrath, Arrow, & Berdahl, 2000).

An Addional Note:

Because of the number of resources I used to write this paper, I will post the references in a separate blog post after I have posted each of the sections I am working on. As always, I would appreciate any feedback you can give me.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Reinforcing learning from an online conference

During one of the sessions in the online conference Corporate Learning Trends and Innovations 2008, one of the presenters (I can't remember which) brought up point that we may not be taking notes as we used to.

This got me to thinking about how my learning is reinforced when I attend a conference like this. I can tell you that I am not sitting by taking notes using pen and paper--or even taking notes via the computer. I do take notes in a more traditional class, but more often than not, these are just keywords. The keywords are used to trigger a memory.

However, my style of learning requires that I make a connection to ideas or something I have learned previously to retain the information. So how do I do this in a digital environment?

First of all, I look for visual cues; chat, discussion, images. In a format like this conference, I monitor the oral presentation, but really pay attention to the text and images. Part of the reason is that I know these sessions are being taped, so I know that I can always go back to hear something I missed.

I think typing my reactions to the speaker helps to reinforce my learning. It is like social note taking. I like the feel of talking through a concept which the chat function allows. I then leave the session and go to the discussion forums. This also helps me to process the information and concepts presented in the sessions.

Finally, blogging allows me to tie in ideas that I have been working on, bringing in resources, and synthesizing ideas to conceptualize my learning, sometimes ending in mental models, sometimes frameworks, and often new questions to pursue.

As a result, I come away from these online conferences with a much deeper understanding than from face to face conferences.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Group Interaction Metacognition Assessment Framework

I am in the process of updating a paper on virtual group interaction and learning. I would appreciate any feedback as I try to update it for a business/management audience. This post will look at the overall framework.

Group Interaction Metacognition Assessment Framework

Many of the previous protocols used to analyze online interaction, look at the individual learning that has taken place or the group dynamics in an online learning environment that will facilitate or inhibit learning (Mazur, 2004). However, in previous research on group work using codes of conduct to improve group communication and processes, Yonkers & Buff (2005) found that improved group communication did not necessarily improve group learning outcomes. In addition, some members of groups that produced poor outcomes, improved substantially more on individual work than some members of groups that had produced above average outcomes. This leads to the question of whether individuals can learn from poor groups or can effective groups inhibit individual learning? In addition, what are the attributes of group interaction metacognition? Do students create different knowledge for the group than for their individual use? The literature on cognitive sharing would suggest this is so (Mohammed & Dumville, 2001; Mulder, Swaak, & Kessels, 2002; Olivera & Straus, 2004). In the rest of this paper, I will purpose a framework to assess online interaction in order to conduct future research on the influence of groups on individual learning, the influence of individuals on other group members’ learning, and the intersection between social and cognitive processes in creating knowledge.

The assessment of group interaction metacognition is divided into two parts: a) intragroup interaction, and b) group-individual interaction. The purpose of the intragroup assessment is to determine how things are becoming to be known by the group rather than what is known (Yakhlef, 2002). More specifically, it is important to assess the ways meaning is made so there is shared understanding. The assessment of the group-individual interaction focuses on the level of awareness between the individual and the group. The analysis will determine an individual’s common understanding with the group against the acceptance of group choices, and the level of the individual’s identification, both social and cognitive, with the group.

Intragroup assessment

The intragroup assessment can be broken down into three categories: type of group, creating meaning, and construction and reconstruction of knowledge. As discussed previously, groups can work in various ways, depending on their level of prior knowledge about other group members, the task, the group goals, and the context. The same group will approach an ill-structured problem differently than a highly structured instructor lead conversation (Jehn & Mannix, 2001; Kates, 2000; Levesque, Wilson, & Wholey, 2001; Mohammed & Dunville, 2001; Waller, et al. 2001). Environmental factors such as time constraints, limited resources, proximity, and cultural differences will also have an effect on the level of interdependency needed to complete a group task (Henning & Van der Westhuizen, 2004). By identifying the type of group learning, group goals, and shared mental models, researchers will be able to give a context to the group interaction. In other words, the type of group will influence the structure of the intragroup interaction.

Group learning

The method of group learning can be divided into four categories: cooperative, collaborative, individual, and competitive (Prater, Bruhl, & Serna, 1998). While there has been an on-going debate in the literature as to whether there is a difference between cooperative or collaborative learning, many make the distinction between these two. Cooperative learning is when students learn together, contributing ideas, reviewing those ideas, working through the process, and developing the final product (including summarizing ideas, making decisions, and/or drawing conclusions) simultaneously. The task has a high level of interdependency and students learn from one another through the process of interaction. Collaborative learning is when each member has a different expertise that he or she brings to the group in order to accomplish a task. Learning is less uniform than in cooperative groups, since each member will have their own expertise (either assigned as in dividing up work tasks regardless of ability or innate as in dividing up work tasks according to student strengths). The quality of the learning is dependent upon how well an individual student can negotiate meaning with the group. In individual learning, students are responsible for their own learning but can access the expertise of group members in a number of ways, such as asking for help, discussing options, or observing others completion of the task. Competitive learning is similar to individual learning, except students are motivated by competing with group members for limited resources or rewards (i.e. grades). One way to assess which form of learning a group is using is to assess how tasks, resources, and responsibilities are distributed.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lost in translation

Janet Clarey had an interesting post about translating educational material. It actually reminded me of when I working on a project in Hungary in 1990-92. Our project came in just as Hungary was transitioning from a communist, centrally planned market to a more free market (I hesitate to say Capitalist, as it has many connotations that are not necessarily positive) economy.

As a normal course of work, we were asked by our funding agencies to conduct an evaluation at the end of our management and business training courses (workshops or one week intensive courses geared towards people that wanted to start their own business). One of the questions we asked was, "Are there any other programs you would like us to offer?" We had an outstanding translator on staff, but we also back translated the questionnaire to ensure the questions asked were what we intended. Everything looked fine, so we started using the quesionnaire.

I remember our Hungarian Director contacting us after the first set of questionnaires were used warning us that we weren't going to be happy with the results. When we started looking through the answers, we contacted our center to find out if we had the correct translations. Yep, now we understood his warning.

It seemed that Hungarians did not know how to answer our open ended question of what they wanted us to offer because they had never been asked. In a centrally planned economy, all decisions are made by authorities who analyze the environment, then make decisions based on government priorities, resources, and population needs. The answers we received on our question ranged from, "My brother in law needs $5000" to "we need to change the laws in how we do banking" to "how do I get a visa to live in the US?".

Lessons from our translation mess

We learned that we had to teach our students how to ask for what they needed. We also needed to realize that they would give us "feedback" in a different form than we were used to.

What Janet is really talking about in her post is the differences in rhetorical style, epistomologies (perception of what IS knowledge and beliefs in knowledge), and the cultural basis of learning. I tell my classes in international business/communication that you can tell what is important in terms of manners and basic knowledge by looking at what a learner in the lower primary grades learns. Think of how hard it is to unlearn "facts" you might have learned in first or second grade (when you were 7 or 8). We also learned the social conventions for schooling, what was the correct way to do a test, for example, turn taking, and how to interact with the teacher.

In a virtual classroom, students come in with these cultural assumptions (the teacher knows everything, the teacher is a guide that may not know everything, we need to do only what the teacher tells us to do, we are our own best teacher). So to update Janet's list (the university of Utah list she outlined) I would include the following questions to ask about the targetted students (this is based on research I did a few years back on replicating business programs in emerging economies)

1) what is the theoretical basis of knowledge for that educational system;
2) what is the perceived role of the teacher;
3) what are the expected responsibilities of the student in the learning process;
4) what is the perception of “business education” within the educational system;
5) what are the learning conventions used by the student;
6) what are the institutional constraints (language, student selection, business resources).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

What is appropriate to appropriate?

I encountered three situations that is the encentive for this post.

Yesterday, I was discussing "plagerism" and how our students perceive it, especially when using the internet. As I am teaching a speech course this semester, the question of plagerism becomes a bit dicey. It is not really interesting to hear a number of names when listening to a speech (think of the boring Oscar speeches when winners list all the people they want to thank). However, the information within a speech came from somewhere, so how can it be integrated into a speech without making it boring?

One way is through presentation software. Charts and pictures should have sources on the slides used to augment speeches. Another way is to create verbal "links" by using supporting information such as video clips (which will have the source on it).

In this same class, students are required to give a bibliography they used in preparing the speech. This means that students need to cite references in an acceptable format. I have used Zotero on my computer for the last year. However, one of my students mentioned that the new version of Word includes a citation feature. I still prefer Zotero as you can capture the information as you browse directly from the web. I was pleased, though, to see that word processing software recognizes the importance of including citations (and the tediousness of formating it correctly for each citation).

Finally, I have been trying to redesign the way my blog looks as I don't think it was necessarily reader friendly and perhaps a bit boring. On the one hand I don't want anything that will slow down the download time for those with dial-up (I had it for so long the pain of waiting for a page to load is still fresh!), but I would like to use pictures a bit more. One of the things holding me back is that I own very few usable pictures (although I did think of beginning to create my own library of visuals I could use that would reflect my postings). However, I was surprised to come across a post by Vicki Davis on the use of pictures available through creative commons.

I still am trying to deliniate when to use something (or link or cite ideas) within the blog. If I were writing a paper, it would be very cut and dry. However, blogging protocols are somewhat different. If I appropriate something directly from online (i.e. cut and paste), I, of course cite it and use the quotes. But what format should I use to cite? I have found that I feel much more comfortable linking the orginial document rather than "quoting" from it. However, there are times, such as when there are a number of comments and you want to use that comment in a post, when quotes are more effective. I am not sure I am 100% comfortable using the images from the creative commons sites as some people have stipulations (such as not using for commercial purposes, citing the source of the image) which might vary from picture to picture. What if I don't follow their stipulations (unintentionally)? However, I am beginning to find my own style of crediting others for their ideas.

How do you address this issue? Is it different in academic settings? Professional or business settings? Does it depend on the audience? How do you know what style to use? I would love to get others inputs on this issue.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Defining writing style: style vs. level

Ken Allen had an interesting post about "writing for the literacy level." I commented that there was difference between reading level and style. In the comment, I did a good job of describing reading level, but not such a good job of explaining what I see as "style" differences and how that is different than reading level.

When writing for a different level of reading, this usually means a writer must provide greater context and use a more common pattern of format, vocabulary, and grammar.

What are common patterns?

The common patterns will depend on the language (including the form of language, such as American English, British English, or International English). This means that there are certain writing, spelling, and punctuation protocols that are recognized by a large group of mainstream language speakers. Looking at a child's book, for example, this does not mean that sentences are simple, but they may be shorter. In American English, this means also that verbs are in an active tense, usually present, simple past, or simple future. More complex verb tenses (conditional, mixtures of time within the same sentence, and conditions such as might have gone if they had been there on time) would require high levels of abstraction (what is compared to what might be).

Likewise, language based on everyday life within the mainstream culture would be a common pattern. This is when defining reading level can put a member of a minority culture at a disadvantage. Younger members who might not be exposed to the mainstream cullture would not necessarily have the cultural knowledge needed to understand items written at a "lower" reading level. Therefore, it may be that a story, such as this one, written for a 5-7 year old, could be more difficult to an urban youth who has never been on a farm. Understanding the story might require a higher level of abstraction than a 5-7 year old is capable of.

Defining Style

Style on the other hand, has to do with the tone, register, genre or format, and organization of information that will be acceptable to the reader in the context of the audience.

Style may differ depending on profession, age, education, context, and (as my current research is indicating) power structures. For example, there is a different writing style for science, academic journals, business, managers, politicians, or a person's grandmother. The same content will be presented different ways, using different jargon and grammar, presenting information in different formats and order, and even giving a different visual representation of the writing (i.e. different fonts, spacing, pictures, use of white space).

Style won't have an effect on understanding a message, but it may have an effect on accepting the message or perception of the message.

Some examples

While Ken contends that he does not change his writing for the age group (as I have not seen what he writes for his students, I can't verify this) he does change his style depending on the top. For example, this post on the knol and this post on technology change style and format.

In fact, many of us change style depending on the circumstances, often unconsiously. A good writer fits the style to the message, the audience expectations, and the formats often provided by those within the power structures within which we work. Our style is often informed by feedback from readers, bosses, and coworkers/colleagues. We begin to think differently, formulating our ideas through the interactive process of writing, feedback, and editing.

I would bet that Ken maintains a "scientific academic" writing style regardless of the reading level. This is because he is introducing his students into the scientific community's communication protocols and structures. If he were to "dumb down" or use too simplistic formats in developing his written material, students would not be inducted into the scientific community. In other words, he would be doing his students a disservice. On the other hand, I am sure that he does make some "reading level" changes without even knowing it, using active voice for younger readers, including definitions with the jargon that older readers would not need. His choice of examples (the use of examples would be stylistic, the types of examples would be reading level) would depend on his students' prior knowledge.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

A New Format

No, you have arrived at the right blog, all 5 of you that visit on a regular basis!

I have not been happy with how "readable" the blog is for a while. So I decided to change things around, hopefully making the blog more readable. Let me know what you think.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Defining collaboration in a learning context

In response to a question raised Britt Gow on the workplace literacy site, I'd like to address the idea of "collaborative learning". Britt's comment was based on a post she read about "drop box" collaboration. In the post, Mr. Rezac, a 7th grade teacher in Illinois brings up a legitimate question as to whether an international project in which students video tape "what it is like to live where they do" is a collaborative learning project or rather just a "drop box" assignment. He questions where the collaboration is in the project.

I believe the real question here, however, is what is collaborative learning. We have had this debate in our department in that some insist there is a difference between collaborative and cooperative learning. In the first case, collaborative learning is when students take a piece of a project and learn from interacting with the group on the piece they have studied. Cooperative learning is when students work together in supporting each others learning.

Just in my own work and research, I see a number of different ways that collaborative/cooperative learning could be manifested, including:

  • Learning from a collaborative event: students collaborate on a project, then have directed/facilitated individual learning based on that collaboration. In other words, they learn from the collaborative process and individual reflection after.
  • Learning from others on a process they all undergo individually: students go through the same experience or individually do the same project, then learn from each other through discussions or collaborative activities designed around the project. In this case they are sharing meaning and creating shared cognition. This is especially useful when the group is distributed (as the example that Mr. Rezac uses).
  • Learning through collaborative problem solving: students work on a team to achieve a definitive goal. The collaboration requires that students use each others expertise and learn from the problems that are created through the collaboration process. There may need to be a facilitator that helps students to focus on each others expertise, to learn how to create shared knowledge for the group, and access that knowledge when needed.
  • Synergistic learning through putting pieces of the puzzle together: in this case, individuals work individually on parts of a collaborative project, but then learn from others as each of the pieces are put together into a whole.
Internal, external, tacit, and explicit learning

One of the major problems with collaborative learning, especially in the formal educational process, is how to measure individual learning. One way to approach this is to ignore individual learning and only look at the group learning. However, this devalues collaborative learning.

Tacit learning outside of the collaborative process is difficult to measure. I believe, though, that this is the real power in collaborative learning. As we move deeper into the 21st century, it is important that we recognize that collaboration is a vital skill in the workforce and may not necessarily be a natural instinct (and definitely is not part of the American culture-or any of the Anglo cultures).

I am not sure how to measure this learning and hope there are some ideas out there as to how to capture the level of learning collaboration presents. However, let's not throw out the baby with the bathwater just because we don't know how to measure its impact yet.