Bonnie asks such an important question...and if I were the facilitator (which I often am) I'd be sitting on my hands for about 48 hours after her contribution was posted to see if others might jump in, but since I'm a participant this time, I'll partake in the luxury of responding with one comment -- Bonnie asks:
do you think there might be a tendancy to elevate online communication
because it is documented when on closer analysis the content might just
be idle chit-chat, small talk - the kind that we would not if it were
to take place in the non-virtual? For example, small talk does not make
it into the minutes of a meeting.
Here's a little piece out of my recent study:
According to Benuunan-Fich, Hiltz and Harasim (2005), ?conversation, argument, and multiple perspectives that arise in groups contribute to such cognitive processes as verbalization, cognitive restructuring, and conflict resolution.? (p. 28.) In a study of several hundred undergraduates taking online courses, Navarro and Shoemaker (2000) verified that student-to-student interactions had a higher correlation (p=.24) to performance than student-to-instructor interactions (p = .10). This finding confirms and extends the enhanced learning gains established by Johnson and Johnson that resulted from peer support rather than from instructor support in face-to-face classrooms (1999).
Learning through peer collaboration is traditionally understood to involve activities where peers work together to create a product (Slavin 1986; Johnson, Johnson et al. 1994; Bruffee 1999). Such group work poses particular challenges in a distributed, asynchronous environment (Dirkx and Smith 2004; Graham and Misanchuk 2004). A primary difficulty with conducting team work or collaborative projects online is how poorly online courseware supports such group work, especially when communication is asynchronous, as it is in the VHS (Kitchen and McDougall 1999).
Collaborative dialogue is a potent, alternative form of collaborative work. Bransford and the National Research Council, in How People Learn (2000), point to the value of such student social interaction for cognitive engagement:
Teachers must attend to designing classroom activities and helping students organize their work in ways that promote the kind of intellectual camaraderie and the attitudes toward learning that build a sense of community. In such a community, students might help one another solve problems by building on each other's knowledge, asking questions to clarify explanations, and suggesting avenues that would move the group toward its goal (Brown and Campione, 1994). (p. 25)
The use of dialogue as a learning activity is not new (Burbules 1993). Harasim (2002) describes the emerging role for computer-mediated conversation described by Brown (1990) as ?the shift from seeing technology as a cognitive delivery system to using it as a means to support collaborative conversations about a topic and the ensuing construction of understanding
? (p. 183). Brufee (1999) highlights the potential of conversation for deepened thinking. Aviv describes asynchronous learning networks as ?cooperative learning enhanced by extended think time? (Aviv 2002), since the asynchronicity provides learners the opportunity to reflect and think through a response before responding. Bender suggests, ?we can think of teaching and learning as being comprised and communicated by the words that flow between teacher and student, as well as student and student.? (Bender 2003 p.56). For this reason, Hiltz and Goldman in their recent book, Learning Together Online
(2005) claim that, "asynchronicity, which may at first seem to be a disadvantage, is the single most important factor in creating a collaborative teaching and learning environment." (p. 6)
Specifically, invitations to learners to post comments to discussions of class readings, science labs, or math problems, to peer-review one another?s assignments, or to share questions and insights about a learning experience can prompt participants to collaborate, or ?co-labor?. This is what I mean by collaborative dialogue. According to Harasim (2002),
Articulation is a cognitive act in which the student presents, defends, develops, and refines ideas. To articulate their ideas, students must organize their thoughts and information into knowledge structures. Active learner participation leads to multiple perspectives on issues, a divergence of ideas, and positions that students must sort through to find meaning and convergence. (p. 53)
Online and asynchronously, ideas are shared using a format in which learners can take the time to reflect on the comments of others and consider their own ideas more carefully before contributing. They don?t have to jump into the often rapid and fleeting repartee of aural dialogue exchanged in ?real? time classrooms. Activities that have been shown to work particularly well are case study discussions (Benbunan-Fich 2002) and peer evaluation and feedback (Hiltz 1994; Riel, Rhodes et al. 2005).
Sorry for all the citations -- most of the references here are detailed at the end of the AERA paper I just shared in a previous post if you want them. Otherwise, please inquire. And if you haven't yet seen Hiltz & Goldman's "Learning Together Online" and you are interested in research on online learning, this is a must-have for your bookshelf.
Okay, that said, I would love to know what others think: when is it "small talk" and what makes it "collaborative dialogue"? ...if you agree at all that there can be a difference.