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.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

What are you doing for the Holidays?

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
Prettige Kirstdaggen en Gelukkig Nieuw Jaar
Felices Navidades y Prospero año
Joyeux Noel et Bonne Année
God Jul og godt nytt år

Last year, I asked the readers at New Year's to tell me how they were celebrating the New Year. This year I decided to start earlier. I love hearing what others are doing at any point in time, but especially at Christmastime. Even as a kid, I couldn't get enough of what others were doing in other parts of the country and world.

For us, the "holidays" begin on Thanksgiving and end with the New Year (mostly the month of December). I also live in an area with a large Jewish population, so Hanukkah also plays into our region's festivities (thus, happy holidays is used more than merry christmas at this time of year).

This year, we had family visiting from Georgia (yes, they got stuck in the blizzard in Virginia on their way up), for Christmas Eve. It was fun to have little children in the house again! Then we went to 4:30 mass, where the children's choir sang. Next, we went to my sister in law's house for the traditional Italian Christmas eve dinner of pasta and Shrimp sauce (my husband's maternal grandparents were from Italy and this is one of the only family traditions that survived).

The next morning, we got up, opened our Christmas presents, called my relatives in Illinois and Florida, and had a formal breakfast (the tradition from my family). Then my husband's sister, aunt, and cousin came over for the day. This year, with one of his aunts in a nursing home and his mother home rehabiliting from broken hips, we went to his parents house to bring them dinner/open gifts, then to the nursing home to give gifts to his aunt. It made me appreciate having a healthy family and an extended family, as many in the nursing home were alone, commenting on how lucky my husband's aunt was to have such a large family. His aunt is a retired nun, with over 50 nieces, nephews, and grandnieces/nephews.

For the rest of the week, we will have dinner at our house with my family (sister and brother, nieces and nephews) and at my brother's house. My family will go to a movie matinee, as we do every year, during the week. My kids have plans with their friends from their old school and their current school to go to basketball games (many of their former classmates play on various local teams), bowling, and to parties at their friends houses. We will also probably go to the local bookstore so my kids can redeem their gift cards and choose books for their winter reading. We will also watch the various DVD's they received for Christmas, during the evenings (as NOTHING is usually on TV at night during the Christmas/New Year's week).

New Year's plans for this year are up in the air (as they normally are). Usually, our kids invite a guest over for dinner New Year's Eve. However, as they are now getting older, they don't want to do so anymore. New Year's is not a big deal for us, and we usually just spend the day taking our tree down, winding down the holiday season. My kids always find it somewhat sad once New Year's comes. New Years also tends to be very cold. This year the evenings (after tomorrow) are expected to be around 7-8 degrees F (-15 C) and the highs in the low 20's (-5 to -6 C). This is also depressing as it means the true beginning to hunkering down for the long winter.

So what do you do during the holidays? Which days are important to you? Do you even celebrate Christmas or is this just another day? What is the weather like? What are you doing during the days? What do you do in the evenings? What salutations (e.g. Merry Christmas, Happy New Year) do you use (both your own language and in English)?

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Toys, games, and education

I was watching a new report yesterday where they were mentioning that children all around the world would be receiving toys thanks to the generosity of donated gifts. My first thought was, "Isn't it more important that they be fed and have access to healthcare (including immunizations and medicines that will keep them alive)?" My next thought was that toys really weren't necessary, and how did we get to the point where a new toy was so important.

As usual, my brain made links that for others might be a stretch. I was reading about a new school in New York City called Quest to Learn. In the article I read, they spoke about this school being a "games-based" curriculum. Well, after researching it a bit more, I realized there was more to the curriculum than games (in fact, it is very similar to my daughter's school). However, the connection I made was the role that "play", "toys", and "games" has in our society.

It used to be that toys and games were used to help develop skills in children. When the US was basically an agrarian economy and before universal education, kids learned to read using the bible or other books a family might have (which often was limited). They would learn skills such as eye hand coordination using toys. Toys also tended to be gender specific which helped teach a child's role in society (i.e. toy soldiers for those who would grow up to "lead" and fight in wars, dolls to help develop child rearing skills).

However, as toys and games, just like everything else in the industrialized world, began to be mass produced, the role of the toy changed from a "learning tool" (after all, children began to attend schools at the same time that the economy became industrialized) to objects of leisure. Leisure time was a result of the industrial revolution, but also helped to fuel the revolution. The age of consumerism was born. The more "things" you have, the higher your status in the consumer economy. As a result, toys also became a symbol of status.

Now, how does this relate to the game based curriculum? For thousands of years, games and toys were learning tools. So why shouldn't there be an element of games in a curriculum? Games and toys help develop critical thinking skills, strategy, creativity, and problem solving skills. If integrated into a curriculum correctly, it also can be a catalyst for learning motivation, team building, and self direction/discipline.

The fear I have is not the Q2L curriculum being one that is too "fun" or not providing enough content, but rather the misuse of this curriculum by teachers and schools who do not understand the underlying principles used to create the curriculum. Namely, I have seen some teachers who use gaming as a "down-time" activity in which teachers can have a break during the day. This is not good education. In fact, I suspect the teachers at Q2L put in a lot more time preparing and facilitating learning than the average teacher.

I am also concerned that students are not learning how to be bored (work is not always exciting and it is important to learn what to do during those down times), nor are learning how to interact with each other to resolve problems (rather than interacting with the technology). This is the only misgiving I see with this new school. My daughter's school does everything in groups, but it is off set with individual assessments. Likewise, while the curriculum is project based, the class does have more traditional learning/lectures when it is necessary for students to interact with the teacher and content. These are not the teacher lecturing the students, as much as group discussion where the teacher follows the lead of the students in answering questions or giving guidance in how to approach a problem.

So perhaps the "toys" and "games" going around the world, if perceived as a way to educate children in a more non-traditional way, will be more than a symbol of status and consumerism. Of course, I still think that alleviating poverty should be our first goal and children can't eat games.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Emerging themes for collaborative writing in groups

I have completed the initial code development for my dissertation. As mentioned previously, using Charmez's (2006) process, I developed codes using action words. The next step is to take those codes and develop emerging themes (or relational statements as Charmez calls them).

I had 53 codes which were then reformulated into themes to answer each question. I have completed two questions so far. The following are the emerging areas that I will be reviewing my data for.

1. How do individuals define knowledge?

Knowledge and expertise is defined by profession/professional standards

Knowledge is possessed and can be identified

Knowledge is defined by the group/department expectations and formats

Knowledge is defined by the formats and processes developed within the work power structure.

Knowledge is created through negotiation of meanings

Expertise is used as currency: withholding, contributing, and prioritizing expertise and who to please.

Knowledge and expertise can’t be defined

2a. What process or processes does a distributed group in the workplace use to create shared meaning and understanding during collaborative writing projects?
The group prioritizes work and expertise at the individual, group, departmental, and organizational level.

The group aligns goals and project vision with resources and organizational expectations.

The group develops common work and communication protocols and shared mental models.

Relationships within and outside of the group are used to compete work tasks.

The group establishes hierarchy within and outside of group.

The group defines and redefines meaning and understanding within the group.

The group identifies threats and barriers to work processes

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Assessment and preparing for the 21st century

As I am trying to get finish up my grading, issues of assessment and evaluation keep coming up.

Some of the questions/problems/issues I am dealing with include:

Should we be using rubrics? Don't they limit creativity and motivation? My students will only do what is on the rubric. I am restricted to grading them only on the rubric. So some students who just do a mediocre non-creative job may get the same grade (or higher because I used the rubric) than those that used more creativity, not really doing what I outlined as expected, but addressing the problem in a whole new way.

If this is what we are training our future workers to do, we will have the "best" workers (those with the highest grade) doing only what their managers told them to do, thus stifling the possibilities and creativity of our workers.

Should we be telling our students our expectations for every assignment, giving them detailed instructions? How many times have you received detailed instructions on the job? Shouldn't we be creating the skill to negotiate "outcomes" with our superiors?
Situations change, factors we can't control require us to change outcomes, and there might be a disconnect between strategists and front line workers. Companies would benefit if workers and managers began to communicate about outcomes be and open to the changing environment.

If graduates only expect to do the work that a manager has outlined for them, an organization loses incentive, ideas, and reality checks from both those at the top and those on the front line.

Should all grading be "fair"? How is "fair" defined and aren't there instances when a standardized means of evaluation is in fact "unfair"? I have students that excel in class. They are engaged, apply concepts or take ideas to new levels. But they don't "evaluate" well. Neither papers nor tests get at their level of understanding that I see in class. They do the work, but it does not translate into their grades. Is this fair? They will be great employees on day. In addition to their academic work, they are good team players, contribute to the class, have a good work ethic, act responsibly in class, and add to an overall good environment. Others that test well are over critical, stifle others ideas, create a negative environment, and really don't do much work, but are good writers and/or good test takers. I'd rather have the ones that don't grade well than those that do grade well. So how fair am I in my assessment?

So, a word of warning to all those in the training and HR departments: make sure you are using other measures to identify the ideal employees. GPA's don't really reflect a student's potential. A word of warning to educators: we need to re-evaluate how we assess in the current climate of "standardization." We may be doing our society a dis-service.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The future of the training department

Although it's a bit late, and I have my grades to finish (or because I have my grades to finish), I did want to post something as part of the ecollab's blog carnival. ECollab is a bilingual multi-author blog on enterprise collaboration.

This month's carnival was about the future of the training department. As an educator of the future users of the training department, I thought I would give my insight into some of the challenges and expectations of future workers about training and education.

1) Instant feedback
: my students don't want to wait to hear how they have done. If they write a report, they expect feedback immediately, perhaps even as they are writing it. As a result, any training they receive will need to be interactive (either electronically or face to face). It will not be enough for them to post something, for example, without any feedback with an hour or two. They do have more patience if you can give them a specific date. But even then, they will put it out of their mind until that date.

2) Choices in learning: Unlike students when I started teaching almost 20 years ago, students want a choice in what they learn, how they learn it, when they learn it, and who they learn it from. This means that training departments will need to offer both formal and informal choices in a variety of mediums (online, face to face, mentoring, tutors, simulations).

3) Just in time learning: If students don't feel it is important for them to know something (at this point, for a test or a grade), they won't bother to learn it. As a result, students are used to picking and choosing what they learn based on direction from authorities and whether or not they perceive what they learn as being useful. Translated in to work related learning, employees won't go through the training if they think it is not useful to their current work unless they have some incentive (promotion, location of training, paid training). Related to this is the idea that anything they will need to know in the future, they will be able to learn quickly, so why bother learning it until it is needed. Any training will need to be situated in a person's job.

4) Situated learning: My husband just had some standard computer training which he found irrelevant until the last class in which they were able to learn the software based on the problems the trainees were experiencing themselves. While there is societal and organizational push to standardize training, most employees won't undergo training unless it is situational. I see this a trend within organizations so that organizations will require more "targeted" training that allows for the training to be pinpointed for a specific employee. This means training departments will need to do a lot more assessment and develop a different model of training that is not standard across an organization.

5) Assessment tools: My students want tests. Why? Because they have a standard way of assessing how they have learned which they can then take with them to the workplace. More and more I am getting students who demand a detailed rubric on how they will be evaluated and assessed. In the workplace, especially as workers have greater access to informal learning, they are going to want the training department to assess their learning, rather than plan their learning. This means the focus of the training department will move from providing resources to assessing skills and knowledge, but in a way that workers accept. Coming from a background of standardized assessments, this next generation will expect the same type of testing to demonstrate their knowledge and skills. The training department will look more and more like the civil service or professional organizations (i.e. legal bar, CPA, NACATE).

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dissertation: Group defining knowledge verbally

In looking at how the participants defined four terms, knowledge, know-how, content, and design, there was an insight into their similarities and differences in their perceptions of knowledge and the knowledge creating process.


They defined the term “knowledge” differently. There appeared to be three different groups: those that defined knowledge as something measurable or tangible (“information”, “content”, “things that you know”), those that had difficulty defining knowledge, and those that defined knowledge as something more intangible (“with knowledge, I know how to behave in any particular situation”, “shared meaning”). Surprisingly, those that identified knowledge as something tangible felt that they were within the organization and group’s powerstructure. They also were part of the traditional training group, which had a greater influence on the project according to the second round of interviews, 3 months later.

On the other hand, those that defined knowledge as something more intangible, were the most disgruntled with the project 3 months later. In fact, one of the group members left the organization before the second interview. The two that had difficulty defining knowledge, also felt a disconnect from the group and organization throughout the project. In fact, they felt a stronger connection to their profession or department, feeling as if they were outside of the group. They also tended to be much more careful with the answers they gave during their interviews.

This would indicate that knowledge workers need to be aligned with the epistemologies of their organizations. When there are different epistemologies within an organization, for example between departments, than there might be tension within distributed groups. This tension was not obvious in the routine collaborative written project (quarterly report) in which the format and even content was dictated from outside of the organization. However, in the creation of the document that required more group interaction and ownership, the differences in epistemologies were evident.

In analyzing the documents, therefore, it is important that I look at the changes to the most important document underwent. It is also important to look at the alignment of these changes, the interpretation of these documents by the individuals in relation to the perceived value by the organization, and the perception of what this document represented to the individual, group, and organization.


Unlike knowledge, the definition of content was consistent throughout the group. In most of the definitions, “information” was included. In many cases, some description of a tangible product was included. This included, “a variety of media”, “source material”, “images”, “what goes in a page”, “curriculum”, and “whatever the written material is.” Additionally, most participants included skills and knowledge or the word “know” in their definitions. In many cases, the definition also included how content was applied.

Interestingly, however, is that while content was consistently defined, and often used interchangeably with knowledge, knowledge was not consistently defined. Therefore, we can define “content” as a tangible subset of “knowledge”. While there might be differences as to what content is valuable or needed, the idea of what content is within a group does not seem to differ. This makes me wonder: if there is a difference in epistemology which leads to a breakdown in the group knowledge creation process, it might help to use a strategy in which acceptable “content” is defined and negotiated at the individual, group, and organizational level. In other words, the “what” will be defined.


Many of the definitions were similar for know how. Often skill and process, “how to use” and experience were used. Those who defined knowledge as something that was possessed also implied that know-how was “possessed.”

While each defined know how differently, they all seemed to share a common understanding that know how was not easily measured, had to do with a process or skill which helped to create know-how, and was informal learning. It also seemed that many of the definitions included how know-how was applied. Some of these included:

“Application of both what to do and knowing how to use it, mainly in an efficient way.” (R.).
“I guess I know…I’m going to use as…I know the know-hows of web development, know-hows of graphic design.” (D.)
“…, know how get things done even if it’s delegating.” (S.)
“I guess that’s knowledge that translates….into an ability to do something.” (P.)
“…intuitive gut navigation.” (H.)

While content seemed static, know-how seemed more action oriented. Know-how also appears to be an individual concept. When defining know-how, the participants tended to use the first person. No one used a collective pronoun in their definitions.

This brings up questions as to the role of “know-how” in the group collaborative process. If it is considered an individual attribute, can a group have “know-how”? Is there such a thing as collective “know-how”? Would it be developed or used in the same way as individual know how?


After the first series of interviews, I noticed that many of the participants used the term “design”, but each in a slightly different way. As a result, a definition of design was included in the second interview. In fact, the definition of design had very little in common from speaker to speaker. In addition, it seemed the most difficult term for the participants to define, most having long pauses before they answered.

Those from the training department tended to perceive design as a definitive construct using terms such as “strategies”,“content”, “framework”, and “curriculum.” Design was a more situated term to define for those in the elearning department, grounded in the creative and meaning making process. For example, “Design is the…planful…elegance and pattern…which gives…definition and meaning.” (R.). Not only is there some situated aspect to design, but those in the elearning department identify a sense of agency in their definitions.

Such a divergence in the understanding of what “design” is could lead to difference in understanding during the creation of a collaborative document, especially when there is no structure to the document, such as the second document studied. The first writing project, using a clearly defined structure was, “Well, the quarterly report’s always a by-product of individual contributions.” (R., group interview). On the other hand, the second collaborative project studied was a document created by the group to help identify the various aspects of the elearning project. In discussing this document in a group interview, the difficulty in creating an agreed upon product was obvious:

R: Well, what formally…I think the … for the classroom trainers, they have a document. Module 1 contains X number of elements. Module 2 contains X number of elements. Eh…for me, there’s a sort of isomorphic mapping of those content elements onto a schema that reflects those same strains and tho…and that same order. Uh…And I’ll give you a copy of this map which talks about where those elements are…


P: There’s a certain way to do that in the classroom. So, um… I think that’s…I don’t know if you can…say right now what your product is going to be. It’s going to be some type of elearning product.
R: Right. I mean…
P: But what it’s going to look like and how it’s…how it’s going to work is not…really isn’t there yet.
R: It isn’t really there... I mean, we have an idea…

Those in the training department seem to perceive design in what Buchanan (1992) refers to as the “categories” of design: “Categories have fixed meanings that are accepted within the framework of a theory or a philosophy, and serve as the basis for analyzing what already exist (p. 12).” The elearning department looks at the possibilities of design, however. This is what Buchanan refers to as “placement” of design. “Placements have boundaries to shape and constrain meaning, but are not rigidly fixed and determinate. The boundary of a placement gives a context or orientation to thinking, but the application to a specific situation can generate a new perception of that situation and, hence, a new possibility to be tested. Therefore, placements are sources of new ideas and possibilities when applied to problems in concrete circumstances (p. 13).”

It appears that coming to the collaborative writing process from these two different approaches affects the knowledge creation and collaborative process.


In this project, it would appear that the source of conflict over epistemology was not a shared understanding of what content was (information, tangible) or know-how (intangible), but rather a shared understanding of design (what is as opposed to what can be created). This appears to be an overlooked aspect of the collaborative writing process.


Buchanan, R. (1992). Wicked Problems in Design Thinking. Design Issues, Vol. 8, No. 2 Accessed: 11/12/2009

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The best teachers don't give you the answers

My family likes to watch the new series "Glee", usually on Sunday mornings on the internet. Since they need to get up early in the morning for school, the 9-10 PM time period is a bit late.

I think what has struck a cord for them in this program is that they bring up issues that are relevant to all high school students, often in a humorous way. In this week's episode, the teacher for the Glee Club has been suspended and cannot accompany the group to the Sectional competition. The students are upset as they complain that they won't be able to do well without their faculty adviser. However, he replies that he has every confidence they can do it without him. "The best teachers don't give you the answers."

I was surprised when my daughter whole heartedly agreed with this. She goes to an alternative school which is project based learning, using groups. "That's how it is in my school," she commented to her brother, who also agree with her. Perhaps there is hope for the future of education if society begins to understand this.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Knowledge creation in distributed group collaborative writing projects: Methodology

As promised, below is an outline of the methodology I used to study indepth a distributed group as they worked on two collaborative writing projects.


The original data collection was based on the research questions: How do individual members interpret the experience of a collaborative writing process within distrubted workplace groups? What factors influence the interpretation of experience that individuals take with them outside of the group as a result of participating in the collaborative writing process? The purpose in answering these questions was to gain a deeper understanding of what the individual perspective is and the various factors, including group dynamics, context, the role of writing and technology, culture, organizational structure (including agency and power structures), and types of learning, that influence the individual in creating his or her own knowledge, contributing to the group’s shared knowledge, and contributing to organizational knowledge and learning.

Due to the complexity of each of these factors that might influence the individual, it was necessary to have a deeper understanding of the individual, group, and organizational processes and contexts in which collaborative writing takes place. Therefore, qualitative methods, specifically grounded theory and ethnomethodology, were used (Charmaz, 2006; Clancey, 2006; Garfinkel, 1967; Patten, 2002).

After the data was collected, it was apparent that there were many directions in which the data could be analyzed. There were three areas that could be analyzed based on the literature review: the effect of group communication, the impact of organizational structures, and/or the effects and affects of written formats on the collaborative writing process. As a result, as often happens in grounded theory research (Charmaz, 2006), the research questions were rewritten to address the emerging themes and concepts found in the data. I decided to focus on the impact of the collaborative writing process from an organizational learning perspective. The questions still were used to gain a deeper understanding of what the individual perspective is and the various factors, including group dynamics, context, the role of writing and technology, culture, organizational structure (including agency and power structures), and types of learning, that influence the individual in creating his or her own knowledge, contributing to the group’s shared knowledge, and contributing to organizational knowledge and learning. However, the questions were more focused on the methods of common understanding created through individual and group practices located within the organizational social and knowledge structures (Garfinkel, 1967).

The questions were then changed to: What knowledge do members of a distributed workplace group identify as being important when creating a group product? What factors influence the choice of what knowledge is important?
The subquestions included:

• How do individuals define “knowledge”?

• What process or processes does a distributed group in the workplace use to create shared meaning and understanding during collaborative writing projects? What factors do they identify as shaping that process or processes?

• What patterns of work activity are maintained and changed at the individual, group, and organizational level within a distributed group? Who do workers identify with in maintaining or changing work patterns in different contexts?

Methodology Framework

While there are many qualitative methods from which to choose, ethnomethodology allows researchers to look at how the individual and social system (the collaborative writing group, organization, clients, and sponsers in this case) influence each other (Brandt, 2005; Schneider, 2002). Ethnomethodology, with its roots in sociology, looks at the effect that a social system has on individual behavior, which behavior in turn informs the development of the social system either by modifying the structure or reinforcing the social dynamics, assumptions, and power structures (Brandt; Schnieder). Researchers using ethnomethodology (as opposed to ethnography) look at everyday practices as coconstructed social activities based on the perspective of the individual (Clancey, 2006; Garfinkel, 1967). Thus, data is analyzed through the lens of both the individual and the organization through the interaction ritual chains (Hilbert, 1992).

According to Brandt, who has looked at workplace literacy practices using ethnomethodology, this approach not only looks at how an individual’s writing is influenced by the social context in which the writing takes place, but also how the individual then becomes the part of the social context by justifying his or her choices and helping to reinforce organizational writing formats. The context and the individual cannot be separated since the internal processes of the individual helps to create the social context.

Therefore, ethnomethodology will require that I look at the individual as a co-creator of the context for the group and the organization. However, rather than looking at it from an organizational or group perspective (thus separating the individual from the context), ethnomethodology allows me to look at it from the individual’s perspective through the interaction with the social context, however complex that might be (Clancey, 2006). In using this methodology, therefore, the influences on individual and distributed group outcomes in a collaborative writing project in the workplace may be both internal and external to the individual, but their location will not be as important as the impact on the individual’s perception of the collaborative writing process and outcomes.

It is important, therefore, that this study includes:
• a complete description of the perceived contexts by group members at the organizational, individual, and group level;

• individual member epistemologies;

• the perceived social structures and discourse communities in which individuals and the group as a whole work;

• a description of the process the group uses to achieve their task and understanding of each other’s position in order to describe the context of their work;

• individual perceptions of what they should and what they actually bring into the collaborative writing process;

• individual perceptions of the effect members have on the collaborative writing process and their group members, and how they themselves are affected by the collaborative writing process and the other group members;

• perceived learning and knowledge creation due to the collaborative writing process; and

• perceived value of the collaboration at the individual, group, and organizational level.

While ethnomethodology will help inform the type of data that is collected and impact how data is analyzed, grounded theory, especially constructed grounded theory, will guide the research process. Constructed grounded theory uses the identified themes emerging from the data to construct theory. It differs from classic grounded theory in that it interprets the data in developing theory rather than looking for explicit codes initially (Charmaz, 2006).

Group Selection

A major criticism of research on group dynamics and processes in the past is that studies created groups and group tasks in an artificial environment, therefore, minimizing the complexities of group work. More recently, research on groups have studied naturally occurring groups in their own environment, so as to look at the relationship between members in a more authentic environment and capture the dynamics that are the result of organizational structure, shared culture, organizational politics, and shared past experience (Gersick, 1988; Jehn & Mannix, 2001; Jehn et al., 1999; McGrath et al., 2000). As I am trying to understand the external, as well as the internal factors that influence an individual’s experience, it was important that the group I study is a naturally occurring group that would normally collaborate together on a written document.

The first step in recruiting a natural occurring distributed work group was to identify organizations that would allow the study to be conducted, as required by research protocols laid out by the University’s Institutional Review Board. Groups were chosen from organizations dealing in “knowledge” as part of their business. Brandt (2005) identifies this knowledge as the intangible tacit knowledge that adds to the value of a product. Because a large part of services are the intangible product, capturing knowledge and codifying it through writing to make it more tangible is very important to service organizations. There may also be strong external pressures to a group collaborative writing process such as government regulations, organizational quality control to standardize processes, and the demand for knowledge in a tangible format (such as a book, webpage, prototype, or software). As a result, sites were chosen from organizations whose products do not fall into the first three categories of the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS product codes for: 1. Agriculture, Forestry, Fishing and Hunting, 2. Mining, and 3. Manufacturing). Possible service industries included government organizations, economic development, advertising, education, consulting, financial services, transportation and travel, retail, healthcare services, legal services, or software development (United States Census Bureau, 2002).

Organizations were identified through trade organizations (i.e. Capital District Trade Organization), listservs (Communication Faculty listserv), and other professional groups and contacts. I made contact with management within the organization, gave them an overview of the project (based on the application made to the Institutional Review Board) and identified two organizations that worked with distributed work teams.

I then needed to work with an organization in identifying pre-existing distributed groups that would be interested in participating in this study. The group as a whole would need to agree to the study, meaning that if one member did not want to participate, the group would be excluded, rather than replacing that member with someone new that would agree to participate.

In identifying possible groups, potential teams needed to meet the following criteria:

• the group or team should be distributed during some part of the process,

• use technology to support their collaboration,

• and have a core group of between 3 and 7 members.

Groups that are “distributed” do not work within the same physical space on a daily basis. They may be distributed by department, by location (e.g. field office and home office, US based and foreign based) or by speciality (e.g. sales, support, management). The group or team may include face-to-face interaction, but part of the collaboration process should include interaction supported by technology (i.e. telecommunications, internet or e-mail, video conferencing, or shareware). This would help inform the study as to how enforced structure (including the limitations technology might place on interaction) and conflicting contexts (local and group due to distributed team) might affect the collaborative writing process. Finally, research has identified the optimal size of groups at 3-7 members (Moreland & Levine, 2001).

In order to limit the effect that group size might have on the collaborative process, optimal size of the study group would have been 3-5 members. However, in many naturally occurring groups, there are peripheral members that would also have an effect on the group process and at any given time more than 5 members may have been working on the project. It was important, therefore, to include these peripheral members in the study. As a result, the group studied was a core group of 4-5 members working on the collaborative writing project, with the input of 2-3 additional members at any given time during the study, all of which gave their consent for the study.

The first site organization was chosen because of its international distributed work teams. Two groups were identified as potential study participants and I contacted each group member directly with an overview of the project. It soon became clear that because of cultural differences and work pressures, that international members of the group were reluctant to participate. So I changed the site (and organization) of the study. The recruitment of the participants for the second site was modified somewhat. I gave a presentation that was an overview of the study to potential participants. They then gave feedback as to whether they would be willing to participate in the project. Based on this, groups were identified as potential study subjects.

I chose the group that met the criteria for the study. Many of the groups had been working together for a while. The final group chosen had never worked together, was at the beginning of their project, and were distributed in three different locations. In addition, the group used email and a project management software, Basecamp, to communicate.

Initially, I monitored the group’s work through Basecamp, after receiving their signed consent to participate forms. I identified two collaborative writing projects that the core group was working on simultaneously and decided to include both projects in the study. Because of the complexity of the phenomenon of collaborative writing, it is important that in-depth data be collected on both individual perceptions and group perceptions. Since one of the things that I would like to understand is how the dynamics of individuals and groups affect the creation of knowledge at the individual level, the question of agency and enforced structure (from the context) is very important. In order to understand the contexts, group dynamics, and individual perceptions, I studied the one group in-depth before, during, and after collaborating on these common documents. Looking at the two documents gave two contexts in which to study the same group.

Data Collection

This study was divided into three phases. The first phase, pre-task and collaboration consisted of a group of interviews looking at what an individual perceives he or she brings into the collaborative writing process and the perceived context in which he or she was collaborating. In addition to the interviews, data was collected on group interaction in Basecamp, meetings through meeting minutes, and additional documents such as email, document drafts, and planning documents.

The second set of individual interviews were conducted 3 months after the first set of interviews and the group interview. This had the unanticipated advantage of being able to collect examples of other documents, work, and group processes that were the result of those documents created during the collaborative process in the first set of interviews. In addition, it allowed me to explore group member perceptions of the organization, project, group, and knowledge creation over a longer time period.

I personally transcribed all interviews. The average length of these interviews was 45 minutes, the shortest being 38 minutes and the longest being 72 minutes long. In total, 15 interviews were conducted. With one exception, all transcriptions were verbatim from the audio taped recording. The one exception, due to malfunction of the recording equipment, had to be pieced together with partial recordings and notes from the interview. In addition, 40 documents were collected, including background information on the project, postings by group members on basecamp, drafts and final copies of documents studied, and additional documents that were the result of the documents studied.

Data Analysis

Using Charmaz’s (2006) process for coding in constructed grounded theory, each transcribed interview was initially coded at the line level using action words. Starting with an interview from each department, initial codes interpreting the interviews were developed using action words. After the fourth interview, codes were reviewed and common terms were written on index cards. Using constant comparison within the interviews and between interviews some codes were combined, others were dropped, and new ones were created (Glasser & Strass as quoted in Charmaz, 2006, p. 54) based on the analysis of the remaining interview transcripts. Once it was obvious that there was a theoretical saturation in coding the data (Charmaz, Patten, 2002), these codes were then used to develop themes.

Looking at each question, codes were combined that developed themes/concepts or “relational statements” (Glasser & Strass as quoted in Patten, 2002, p. 490) that could be used to analyze the data and begin to develop theory.


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Thursday, December 3, 2009

Study on knowledge creation in distributed groups

I currently am in the process of identifying emerging themes for my dissertation. However, recently, the blogsphere has been ripe with discussion on communities of practice and working with groups. This might be the result of the publication of Wenger, White, and Smith's book, "Digital Habitats".

In reading these posts and comments, I realized that my dissertation topic may in fact be relevant! Sometimes I think it is just a matter of finding the correct community in which to place research and ideas. With that in mind, I have decided to make my work in progress available on this blog. As this is a grounded theory based study, I will write my research memos (Charmaz, 2006; Maxwell, 2005) on a blog (research blog posts?). I hope I can get some feedback as I am finding the process of writing my dissertation very lonely.

My next post will outline the research methodology.

Charmaz, K. (2006) Constructing Grounded Theory. Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA.
Maxwell, j (2005) Qualitative Research Design. Sage: Thousand Oaks, CA.