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, February 12, 2009

Group meaning making

Here is a continuation of the paper on group knowledge making I began in December.

Creating Meaning

As we have already discussed, meaning is created when there is cognitive dissonance. However, the extent to which individual understanding a) correlates to the group, b) deviates from the original meaning, and c) influences the group’s shared knowledge is dependent on the level and type of interaction. There are three ways that interaction creates meaning: through conflict, type of talk, and level of discussion.

Group dynamics researchers have identified two types of intragroup conflict: a) task, and b) procedural (Jehn & Mannix, 2001; Jehn, et al. 1999, Simons & Peterson, 2000). Task conflict refers to differences in the problem, task, procedures, implementation, and final actions. Jehn & Mannix found that task conflict improves group performance and outcomes, probably because conscious choices about the process are made. This ties into Yakhlef’s (2002) conclusion that in moving from being (because it has always been that way) to knowing (applying knowledge to multiple contexts) knowledge is created.

Relational conflict, on the other hand often threatens individual’s personal and social identities. As a result, these types of conflict can be disruptive to the group process, perhaps resulting in an individual’s isolation within a group. However, not all task conflict is positive and not all relational conflict is negative. Therefore is it important to identify constructive and destructive conflict.

In resolving task or relational disputes, a conflict is destructive to the group when it isolates or divides members to the extent that sharing is no longer happening. On the other hand, conflict which takes down impediments to sharing, such as differences in mental models, in constructive (Ayoko, Hartel, & Callan, 2002). In addition, temporal factors such as time pressures caused by deadlines, frequency of interaction, and length of time together, can have a positive or negative effect on conflict (Jehn & Mannix; Waller, et al. 2001) . The absence of conflict creates little opportunity for an individual to learn within the group (Yonkers & Buff, 2005).

If there is little conflict in an online interaction it can mean one of two things: a) the individual has the same knowledge as others within the group, therefore cannot learn from the group, or b) the individual is not interacting with the group to negotiate understanding, but rather is creating meaning from his or her perspective. In the second case, while learning is taking place, there is no shared cognition or group learning per se.

Content analysis which identifies the amount of conflict and type of conflict (task, relational, destructive, and constructive) will help researchers determine opportunities for intragroup learning. It would be important to look at the duration of the conflict, the timing of the conflict, and the intensity of the conflict over time.

Mercer’s social way of thinking or types of talk, gives insight on the level of intragroup meaning creation (Wegerif, et al., 1999). Mercer identified three modes in which students interact in problem solving: disputational talk, cumulative talk, and exploratory talk. Each of these modes are increasingly more complex in the interaction process. As groups move from disputational to exploratory talk, individual reasoning contributes more to shared understanding. Disputation talk is a simple disagreement or an individualized contribution, without any explanation or intent to negotiate meaning. Cummulative talk is a non-critical addition to previous group contributions, with the intent to add to knowledge without negotiating meaning. Exploratory talk includes judgment and evaluation in contributing to the discussion, with the intent to negotiate meaning with group members.

Related to the types of talk is the level of discussion. Jarvela and Hakkinen (2002) identified three levels of discussion in their research. The first was a higher level, which was characterized as abstract and theory based. The second level was progressive. In progressive discussions, students begin with experience in order to build reciprocity and shared knowledge. Knowledge was created by building on previous postings, but there was never any abstraction or theory applied. Finally, lower level discussions are a series of non-related or individually presented postings that do not add to a shared meaning for the group.

In analyzing how groups and individuals in groups interact to create meaning, researchers can identify the impact that groups have on individuals, the impact that individuals have on groups, and the ways in which individuals and groups make meaning. This category also begins to identify the choices an individual makes when creating knowledge. This also begins to address the issue of the depth of student learning. A group with a low level of conflict, disputational talk, and lower level discussion will probably need to have individual assessments to determine what an individual has learned. However, it is much easier to assess student learning in a high conflict group which uses exploratory talk and higher level discussions. In addition, even if a group member is not an active participant, Olivera & Straus’ (2004) suggests that just by being in the group, he or she will learn more.

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