Supporting and Advancing Online Dialogue: May 7-27, 2007

What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Cindy Xin -
Number of replies: 50
Dialogue is one of the most common and profound activities online. It is common because we do it every day through email, discussion forum, chat or any other online communication channels. It is the major way through which we interact with other people. It is profound because it is so common and because it is so essential to how we learn, understand, and grow both as an individual and as a group.

There are many ways we engage in dialogue with others online, synchronously or asynchronously. In this seminar, I’d like focus our attention specifically in asynchronous discussion forum or simply discussion forum like this one. Within this context, I hope we will collectively reflect the nature and characteristics of online dialogue. Through this reflection I also hope it will deepen our understanding and ultimately guide our online practice.

To start our conversation, I like to pose a few questions -

What do you think a successful online dialogue should be like?
How is it similar to and different from fact-to-face dialogue? And so what?
What is your past experience of success and failure, and what made it succeed or fail?

Let’s start with these few questions.

I have asked Sylvia to start a wiki page for this seminar. I invite you all to contribute to it.  Through the process of this three-week dialogue, hopefully we will also produce a resource that we can use in our future online practice.

Cindy
In reply to Cindy Xin

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Sylvia Currie -
Cindy asks: What do you think a successful online dialogue should be like?

I'd like to start of with something that doesn't sound terribly profound! In fact I'm not even sure how to express it but it's something that is often missing in online dialogue: Acknowledgment

Acknowledgment falls into many categories. It is also a shared responsibility. Let me see if I can say this in a way that makes some sense!
  • Understanding that your own thinking, comfort level, motivation are all influenced by others
  • Recognizing the contributions of others (in the conversation or from other sources)
  • Demonstrating that you've read and appreciated other contributions
  • Acknowledging that online dialogue is an important part of the learning process (i.e. make it an integral part of a course, reminding people of the value of their contributions)
  • An awareness that advancing and supporting online dialogue is what everyone should be working toward.
  • Appreciating the effort that must be invested in successful online dialogue. (This comes with experience)
Acknowledgment can often come through in very subtle ways: "What I'm hearing is..." or "Several themes are emerging...". Or it can be very obvious: "Pete, your comment really made me realize...".

So acknowledgment is something that works separately from evidence that participants are grasping content, demonstrating conceptual change, etc. It's more focused on process -- evidence that participants are working together in a supportive environment.

I'm having a tough time organizing these thoughts! Is there a label to this thing I'm calling acknowledgment? Have you experienced it?






In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Monica Macaulay -

Hi again,

This thing you are calling acknowledgment Sylvia is key for successful online dialogue.  I would say it is important in most contexts but essential in others -- as in our case at NVIT where most participants are new to online learning and very intimidated. 

Another word I would use along with acknowledgment is validation.  When we acknowledge someone's contribution we are validating the effort they are putting into the process.  Regardless of if they have grasped the content or not it appears students appreciate and maybe even need to know that they are taking a step in the right direction.

In my work it has become very clear that students want to see evidence that others have read their work.  So in a response it is of great value to reiterate what has been mentioned before, repeat previously written phrases or terms so people can identify their contribution.  That act in itself has the power to propel the discussion forward because those who have participated now feel it's safe to continue participating.

I agree, hard to articulate into words but this is a good example of how to make your online classroom more inclusive. 

Monica   

In reply to Monica Macaulay

acknowledgment, validation, recognition

by Cindy Xin -
Thanks Sylvia for acknowledging the need for acknowledgment. Among all the people I know in this field, you probably have the most experience of on the subject. Monica, I do like you use the word validation. It is a form of acknowledgment but it goes a step further to say that this is why someone's contribution is valued.

I think we all have the experience of checking in a discussion forum to see whether anyone has responded to our recent posts multiple time within a day, or whenever we have a chance. This behavior can be obsessive sometimes. We are eager to see our contributions acknowledged, our ideas validated. Until that happens we would keep anticipating until we receive the recognition, or we give up hope, which can be an unfortunate and frustrating experience.

Recognition has to be made explicit and timely. To be explicit is to type it out and refer to participants' names as much as possible so they are credited publicly of their contributions. To be timely is to do it as soon as possible, so the anticipation won't turn into disappointment. This is also why things are better taken care of when this responsibility is shared among all participants. When one misses it, others can help make it up.

Also the recognition goes both ways between teacher and the students, the moderator and the participants. Teachers and moderators need confirmation too, so they know that they are on track or they need to do something to get back on track or open up new territories.

So acknowledge - let people know they are heard at least. The last thing one needs online is silence.

Cindy
In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Lorie Mitchell -

I think acknowledgement is VERY important and in college classes it's most important towards the beginning of the semester when you are building up the camaradie of the students in the class. As the semester goes on, I can pull back a bit as the students begin to acknowledge each other. It's a validating time for the students for them to realize that their point of view counts.

Very good point. :)

Lorie

In reply to Lorie Mitchell

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Brenda Kaulback -
I agree that acknowledgment / validation are even more important online than in face to face dialogue, both in the education setting and the work setting. As facilitator of online dialogue in work situations, I feel successful in one part of my task when, as Lorie points out, the participants start doing this for each other. Recently, a colleague of mine who does transformative mediation (face to face - for court situations), was asked what was most important in successful mediation and she answered that the most important piece of her work as a mediator was to let the participants know that they have been heard. Since I heard her make that comment I have been noticing how applicable that is to so many situations - Is it at the beginning of Peter Senge's book (I don't have it handy to look up) where he tells the story of an indigent people who greet each other by saying, "I see you." Certainly even more applicable in virtual situations where our being seen/heard can only be known by a subsequent posting!
In reply to Cindy Xin

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Cindy Xin -
It's a beautiful Friday afternoon in Vancouver, BC. I find myself sitting here  and replying to my own message. Why is the seminar so quiet? Is there something I should or should not have done? What can I do now to get the fire going again? I ask myself. Maybe you can help.

I realize that discussion about online dialogue can be an old hat. It's not as new and exciting as flying through Second Life or other Web 2.0 kind of buzz, but maybe there is a second life to online dialogue discussion too. After all, many of the Web 2.0 technologies are about social networking which hindges on conversation. It has to worth something to reflect upon its practice in the past 25 years or so in online education. Wouldn't you think so?

Now, I'm wondering how many bloggers feeling the same way I'm feeling now - talking to myself but hoping someone would talk back...

Cindy
In reply to Cindy Xin

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Monica Macaulay -

I am here to talk back.  What you are experiencing is so typical of what happens online isn't it?  I want you to know that I am here and still reading but haven't had the time in the last few days to formulate thoughtful responses.  And in our neck of the woods it is sunny and warm too so maybe that's the answer.

Have a good weekend and I'll be back.

Monica

In reply to Monica Macaulay

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Cindy Xin -
Thank you Monica. I hope we all enjoy some sun. I'll be back too.

Cindy
In reply to Cindy Xin

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Elizabeth Wallace -

Hi Cindy:

Perhaps we're all just quietly thinking about this complex question about the nature of online dialogue. Personally, I still shake my head in wonder everytime I stop to think about this brave new world online. The fact that I can talk to almpst anyone, almost anywhere using a machine on my desk which shows me pictures and words, plays me music and videos (and of course spams me) is truly amazing, and we take it too much for granted.

To comment on the "dialogue" word in the title of this seminar, I'd like to play Devil's Advocate, and question whether dialogue is actually what we do online. Jane Vella's work on Dialogue Education comes to mind here.  Here's the link to some resources in SCoPE related to the Teaching and Learning Readers' Group which discussed her book Learning to Listen, Learning to Teach (2002): http://scope.lidc.sfu.ca/mod/resource/view.php?id=460

In her book, Jane points out that "Dia means 'between', logos means 'word'. Hence. dia + logue = 'the word between us " (p. 3).  It occurs to me that in an online environment there are many things that can create "noise" between us (or among a lot of us) which can interfere with the clarity of the dialogue. The noise can be external events, internal pre-occupations, the sound of construction outside my window, or the weak wireless connection that causes my words to be lost. In f2f dialogue, the noise can be mitigated by reading body language or hearing tone of voice.

So perhaps we need to come up with a different word for what happens online instead of dialogue.  What happens in a virtual world is much more than the word between us. Who will lead the parade to come up with a new term?

In reply to Elizabeth Wallace

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Barbara Berry -
Good Morning!
Ok, off the top of my head - "infologue". This was the first thing that popped into my head as I read with interest the comments so far on this most interesting topic of online dialogue.

Is there a continuum that we might consider or a typology or even a folksonomy of the kinds and range of conversations and dia-logues that might take place depending on context, people, outcomes and the like?

For the fun of it, we might go back to Sherry Arnstein's (1962) Ladder of Citizen Participation that illustrates levels of participation and engagement in community development. I bet there is a similar "ladder" of conversation, communication and dialogue in the online environment all contingent upon who is "leading" or "directing" or in charge of the process.

I experience "info-logue" when I am simply looking for or giving information on a particular topic - the bottom rung of the ladder. I have been involved in more of a "dia-logue" as defined by Paulo Frieire when a group of like-minded and committed individuals vested in making change are engaged in examining assumptions, exploring and examining information that can contribute to solving the problem, planning and making changes in their lives. At this higher rung of the ladder, the dialogue is different. There's community control, direction and leadership towards a common goal or end point.

cheers,
Barb

In reply to Barbara Berry

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Derek Wenmoth -
Hi Barb

this is indeed an interesting topic as it challenges a lot of the existing assumptions we have or may have about the nature of dialogue that occurs in our face to face classrooms etc. I've thought about this in the context of how people interact with blogs, and the disappointment that some people feel when they fail to get feedback or comments posted on their blog. I came up with a very simple model to illustrate my thinking at the time (see http://blog.core-ed.net/derek/2006/11/participation_online_the_four.html). In my diagram I've attempted to capture the motivation of people at each level, the sorts of behaviours that characterise participation at each level, and  the outcomes in terms of community development (however that may be understood). I'd be interested to know if this is along the lines that you're thinking?
In reply to Derek Wenmoth

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by E.A. Draffan -

Just to say thank you so much for that wonderful diagram - I really felt it was very helpful and I apologise for being a lurker this time round but it has been a bit of a busy time.

Best wishes E.A.

In reply to Derek Wenmoth

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Cynthia Alvarado -
I found your diagram to be a fairly accurate mapping of behaviors I have observed thus far. Thank you for contributing it. Will the ongoing progress of various interactive web technologies, such as virtual worlds expand it? I wonder. 
In reply to Cynthia Alvarado

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Derek Wenmoth -
Hi Cynthia
good question re the way technologies might change/expand/alter the diagram - based on my current observations and research my hunch is a tentative "no". I'm seeing the same patterns of participatory behaviour emerging in young people's participation in MMOGs for instance - the difference being that in many cases they "accelerate" through the stages more quickly. Of course, I'm also a believer in the notion that a new technology changes everything (the ecological change theory) - thus I'm fully open to the idea that at some stage we'll see some paradigmatic change(s) that will challenge these existing understandings.
In reply to Derek Wenmoth

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Barbara Berry -
Hi Derek,
Your diagram is great! Yes, first of all the "labels" ranging from consumer to commentator illustrate a  pattern of participation and control. It describes how the concepts of motivation, engagement and participation are related.  So, for instance, a participant may "visit" an online forum to gain information (little risk and person-centric), or to "share an opinion" (which takes more risk), or to "test one's ideas" (even more risk) or at the top level to "provide leadership" (more communal-centric). This pattern suggests levels of efficacy and meaning-making that are likely tied to motivation. It also looks like the "conversational behaviours" describe levels of engagement at each step (from "light to deep").

What are your thoughts regarding context and time as additional factors that might influence the communicative features in your model?

Barb

In reply to Barbara Berry

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Derek Wenmoth -
Barb
thanks for the feedback on the diagram - I think you've identified the two key things really well - participation and control (or whatever words one might choose to describe these characteristics) - and the issue of risk in terms of people "putting themselves out there". We know from face to face interactions that some people are more likely to "shoot form the hip" and begin speaking in a group from the start, while others take a while to warm up, preferring to process what is going on before they offer a more "informed" opinion or idea.

In the research work we've been doing into participation in online communities at CORE Education over the past ten years or so we've consistently seen the same patterns of behaviour emerging. The important thing to remember also is that there's a developmental thing going on here too - which is where the issue of time comes in. It would be improper to base any observations purely on the analysis of participation in a single community - as people become more familiar and confident, so these patterns of participation develop. We've had the opportunity to see groups of teachers who are pursuing a graduate qualification online go through several years of this, and notice how their familiarity with the environment, understanding of the protocols and confidence in sharing ideas has matured over time and so alter the nature of  participation in the entire community (for instance, the more experienced ones help induct new members etc.)

Regarding context, there are so many things to consider here - geographical context (location), proximity (ie do the participants get to meet each other face to face in addition to online), culture, experience/background etc. In all regards, my experience would be that context is a defining variable in terms of participation in an online community, but overall, the same pattern as illustrated in my diagram persists.

There's  my ten cents worth :-)
In reply to Derek Wenmoth

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Nick Kearney -
It is an interesting model Derek, and it rings true with a lot of my experience in online contexts. It seems to me that there may be parallels between it, as a model describing individual behaviour, and Tuckman's model of group development, mentioned elsewhere in this forum by Cindy. That needs more thought, Tuckman was talking about groups, which aren't quite the same as communities, but what interests me is the fifth level Cindy mentioned with reference to Tuckman: transforming. I wonder how that, assuming that there are parallels, might fit into your model. Might it be a kind of accumulation of the previous stages, or does it move beyond them to something different, perhaps where the focus of the previous stages on the individual falls away?
In reply to Derek Wenmoth

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Brenda Kaulback -
Thanks for this great model, Derek. I find it rings pretty true to my experience in online dialogue. Do you see the role of the facilitator as fitting into the commentator column - in other words, do you distinguish between the leaders who are participants and the one or ones who launch the topic, monitor it, assume responsibility for carrying it forward (such as I assume Cindy is here) in the same category or a different one?
In reply to Derek Wenmoth

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Irwin DeVries -
Hi Derek,
My reply is late but I just joined the community! I think your diagram has some valuable insights and is a refreshing example of an alternative to the tired and overdue-for-retirement Bloom's taxonomy, which continues to haunt the halls of learning. We need to continue to find new and meaningful ways to describe levels of learning engagement and accomplishment.
In reply to Elizabeth Wallace

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Brenda Kaulback -
In our company (Knowledge in the Public Interest) we use the word Polilogue (coined, I believe, by our CEO), to indicate that we are engaged in a conversation among many....
In reply to Cindy Xin

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Janet Bowen -

I think that you have hit on an interesting part of the online world. For some, they still perfer to be silent observers. The term I've heard is lurking. Those that are introvert still find it difficult to participate in the dialogue. As leaders, doesn't fall upon us to find a way of stimulating the exchange? I think you are touching on the crux of the matter many times in an asynchrounous conversation this is an issue.

As a blogger, you are stimulating a conversation, albeit more of a monologue. maybe one way to stimulate a response would entail the leader finding a statement that would be considered "controversy". So what does this mean. Controversy is defined as a state of dispute or disagreement. As a leader we must create situations that presents a mild form of dispute, encouraging opinions to be stated. How do we go about that? Asking questions or are there other methods.

Janet

In reply to Janet Bowen

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Emma Duke-Williams -

I think that you have hit on an interesting part of the online world. For some, they still perfer to be silent observers. The term I've heard is lurking.

A friend of mine, who's on the same email list as me (a "social" rather than a "learning" one, though we do learn a lot!), uses the term "listener" rather than lurker, as lurker (at least in British English) has a fairly sinister meaning. Clearly social interest groups are different to learning ones, as no-one *has* to join in. However, I think that we have to get the balance between ensuring that all students understand what's going on, and have the opportunity to particpate, without forcing them unduly. As it happens, with this friend, as she is generally silent, others tend to respect her posts when she does make them, as they are as informative and pertinent as they are infrequent.

As a blogger, you are stimulating a conversation, albeit more of a monologue. maybe one way to stimulate a response would entail the leader finding a statement that would be considered "controversy". So what does this mean. Controversy is defined as a state of dispute or disagreement. As a leader we must create situations that presents a mild form of dispute, encouraging opinions to be stated. How do we go about that? Asking questions or are there other methods.

I'm not sure how many of you get Stephen Downes "OL Daily", but he has had a couple of posts recently that discuss comments (and "blog popularity"). He initially blogged about an article discussing how you could measure blog success - which included the number of comments (he didn't agree with the post) and got several comments, including one asking why he rarely answers comments on his blog. He later answered that with several points - one being that he felt it wasn't always good to have the "last word" - that it should be up to the commentors to have it. (He made a follow up post the following day, if any one's interested in it)


The concept of "last word" though is worth looking at - in the case that he quotes - it is possible for him to put comments on others comments in their blogs, rather than on his site  - is it preferable, do others think, if I place a comment on his site, to have an answer on my site (assuming there's a relevant post to attach it to). I personally think that it is valid, as it shows that the blogger whose blog I commented on is interested enough to find & read my blog. However, for a 3rd party, it could lead to a difficult to follow conversation ..

In a forum - does the facilitator need to have to comment on everything to show that they've read it. Personally, I don't think so. If no-one comments on this, I'm not too worried, but returning to the context of the email discussion list I mentioned at the start, I know that some people get very upset when no-one answers their posts. From a work point if view, I had a student complaining that no-one had commented on his blog. When it was pointed out to him that a: He hadn't commented on anyone elses, and b: Commenting on his blog resulted in you being told your comment was held for moderation, so comments were being made, he just hadn't released them, he did rather sheepishly admit to having used an email address for setting it up that he never checked; though he never did seem to make any comments on anyone else's blog, nor release those even after this point had been raised...
In reply to Emma Duke-Williams

Blogs, groups, and facilitation

by Sylvia Currie -
Emma raises the topic of blog conversations, and I have to say this is one area I have a hard time getting my head around in terms of defining the role of a facilitator. I also wonder about the the nature of blog conversations versus, what should we call them, "venue-based" or "group" discussions? And then there's the element of a scheduled, focused discussion versus discussions that pop up, run their course, then phase out based on interest and readership.

Bear with me while I fumble through these questions whirling around in my head! tongueout

In blog conversations, there can certainly be good debates and opportunities for elaboration and clarification on posts/comments. But without a facilitator role -- someone with the invested interest in advancing the dialogue as a group -- can we achieve the same level?

When Emma commented that: "...for a 3rd party, it could lead to a difficult to follow conversation" I thought YES! There's something about the way the individual is situated in blog conversations. Is it that we are more focused on reading, contributing, and organizing for our own benefit? Is that the big difference?


In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: Blogs, groups, and facilitation

by Ron Lubensky -
When I ran my experimental eLearning Design Challenge blog a while back, I was disappointed to find that commentators tended to respond to me rather than to each other. I believe subscribers simply didn't understand or accept my role as moderator and persisted in viewing me solely as contributor and voice of authority. I tried to step back, to open up the conversation, but was constantly asked to contribute my personal view or defend a particular position. I concluded that it wasn't the blog format so much as people's experiences with it in other contexts that lead them to appropriate it in this manner. 
In reply to Ron Lubensky

Re: Blogs, groups, and facilitation

by Emma Duke-Williams -
Ron said: I believe subscribers simply didn't understand or accept my role as moderator and persisted in viewing me solely as contributor and voice of authority.

Had you outlined to them what you saw as a "moderator" role? Perhaps they saw you as "expert" - and thus expected you to take on the "expert" role?

I concluded that it wasn't the blog format so much as people's experiences with it in other contexts that lead them to appropriate it in this manner.

I'm not so sure about that ... I'd say that it *is* the blog format that leads people to use them in this way. I'm not sure how you set up your blog, but most that I've seen tend to have one main poster. Even if you did set everyone up to be an author, you have a few more problems. In a forum, you can see which thread was answered most recently - in the almost all cases, it shows up at the top of the list, so someone finding an interesting  thread two pages down brings it back to the top. Most blog software won't do that. I'm also, of course, not sure how you set it up to notify everyone of comments - did they get an email notifying them that a new comment had been made (as is often the case for a single author blog, so you can approve/ block the comments), or not? If comments did have to be approved, who was responsible for it?

I've been using Elgg for some time now with students. We had a group blog, and it was presented as a blog. I found that it was very hard to get students to start posts there. Towards the end of that particular course, the software got a subtle change. Group blogs now default to a forum - so the most recently commented post is at the top, rather than the most recently started. I'll be interested to see, next year, if we get more students starting threads in it.
In reply to Sylvia Currie

Re: Blogs, groups, and facilitation

by Emma Duke-Williams -
Sylvia said; Is it that we are more focused on reading, contributing, and organizing for our own benefit? Is that the big difference?

As I've already mentioned to Ron, I think that the blog is much better suited to the individual. I've thought it for some time now, initially I'd seen it more in terms of ownership & customisation - i.e. It's *my* blog, so I can choose the layout, the way I write etc.

however, over the last few weeks, my blog seems to be getting more and more hits - and I've getting comments on things that I've posted a while ago. I know that I've had them, because I get a notication. But, if the post isn't in the 10 most recent - is anyone else going to know (or care for that matter) that a 4 week old post 2 pages down, suddenly has an extra comment. I highly doubt it!

Here, with a discussion board, there's nothing to stop me, in 6 weeks time, returning to this. Those of you who've enabled RSS/ email feeds will get notification - so could return if you want. Those who haven't enabled it & just decide to revist posts that had useful information in will also see that there's been a new comment.

That, I think is probably why blogs tend to be seen as a personal, rather than group tool.
In reply to Emma Duke-Williams

Re: Blogs, groups, and facilitation

by Sylvia Currie -
This little blog facilitation tangent has really helped to clear things up in my mind. A blog post is getting the thoughts out there, but the usual invitations and prompts for further dialogue are  usually missing -- sort of a here it is, do with it what you will approach.

As Emma suggest, if it's your blog then everybody else feels like they're your space. There are also examples of using blogs for organized and facilitated discussions, such as SANTEC Blogs for quality learning in developing contexts and Terra Incognita. These examples have clear roles -- organizers and facilitators the the feeling is more community oriented.

And Ron's eLearning Design Challenge project is fascinating (love the "epiblog"). These challenges in using the tool for a different purpose are interesting. It seems a blogging tool lends itself quite nicely to a focussed discussion, anchored on the main thought-provoking post. I wonder if it's simply how we've come to understand what a blog is that causes people to look at the facilitator as the voice of authority.


 
In reply to Cindy Xin

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Nick Kearney -
Your comment about silence is interesting Cindy. We are increasingly governed by our expectations about the rhythms of online interaction. How many of us in our work in online forums have written or unwritten guidelines about response times, 48 hour rules and so on? When there is silence it makes us uneasy, silence online remains hard to interpret, and we tend to worry whether we could have done more.
I am not sure that this is the case here. I spent a couple of days last week deliberately avoiding this forum because I knew I would want to read and think about all the posts, and I didnt have the time! Then perhaps more importantly when I did I needed time to reflect before posting. So in my case silence has been more due to the richness of the discussion :)
In answer to what you said about the buzz, I have found nothing so exciting online as some of the conversations I have participated in online, in forums or on lists, over the years, some of which could even be called dialogue!!!
In reply to Cindy Xin

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Cindy Xin -
This is what made online dialogue fascinating. The dynamics can just change and turn so quickly, in unexpected ways. Last Friday, I was pondering over the silence. Since then, I've heard so many wonderful voices and I can't keep up to say hello! Part of my own silence was because, as you pointed out Susan, weekend, Mother's Day, and for me also entertaining out-of-town visitors and flying to a conferencing. I'm at the CADE/AMEC conference in Winnipeg now and just got connected on Wireless. I'll try my best to play hooky so I can make my post here. More later...

Cindy
In reply to Cindy Xin

Do we even have a good sense of dialogue practices offline?

by Nancy White -
I think there is an assumption that dialogue online is simply a matter of going online and posting. I don't think many of us even think about the practice of dialogue and may not even have dialogue skills offline, so it is hard to do/experience online. We are good at throwing around a lot of words! ;-)

When do we know we are in a state of dialogue and not info-throwing? Emotionally. Intellectually.

I realize, I don't know.
In reply to Nancy White

Re: Do we even have a good sense of dialogue practices offline?

by Nick Kearney -
In this forum so far, I have the sense that there may be different understandings of the term dialogue. At some points my interpretation has been that we are talking about any interaction in online contexts, and using the term dialogue to label that. At others we seem to be closer to the idea of "dialogue" in the tradition of Bohm, or Gadamer, who was mentioned earlier. While there are distinctions within that tradition, I think the larger distinction between terms like interaction, or discussion or even perhaps conversation, and the concept of dialogue is important.
Dialogue in that tradition is very much focused on equality of participation, there is a democratic spirit to it that sits uneasily with much of the literature on the "management" of online forums, where the objective appears to be, in some cases, the manipulation of the learners. It may be that, as some have suggested here, this should be the objective, that our role is to direct a series of interactions that bear a resemblance to dialogue. It may be that we should always maintain control. I don't think I agree.
As Andrew points out, in education there is a need for a teacher who provides value of some kind for the learner, and there is a balancing act involved in the teacher's intervention in online discussion. It seems to me that, if we are talking about dialogue, as opposed to discussion, then this balancing act has to do with creating the conditions in which dialogue can emerge. However, when it has emerged perhaps the secret is knowing when to let go and allow the dialogue to develop. At that point to "lead" may stifle it, and hinder the transformation that Cindy mentions in another post.
As (a brief) answer to Nancy's question: "When do we know when we are in a state of dialogue?" I am not certain either, but I would suggest that it may be when we no longer have the sense of directing the process, when we do not know where it will take us, because we are still listening to the other participants. In other words, in a state of dialogue, we have relinquished control. How does that sit with the way we understand the role of teacher? I guess this is where the balancing act becomes hardest.
Perhaps the issue is about how to create a space for dialogue, in which we can engage as participants, (suspending the "teacher" role temporarily) and in that process of creating the space, it may be that the the kind of "leadership" that has been mentioned may be of use, though I have to confess that I don't see the word "leader" as useful. However much we pummel it into new shapes in order to redefine it, it still smells the same.
As Nancy says, a key issue is that many of us may not necessarily have dialogue skills offline or on, and this may apply to the learners as well. Learning to get the most out of online learning may perhaps involve learning to "dialogue".
In reply to Nick Kearney

Re: Do we even have a good sense of dialogue practices offline?

by Brenda Kaulback -
Nick  - I find your comments on control and leadership very interesting. As I mentioned in an earlier post to Nancy White, even Open Space (where the participants set the agenda when they get together) has a facilitator or leader or convener, as I think Harrison Owen (the originator) calls it, who "holds the space." And in Open Space, there is also a focus and a purpose, a framework, parameters which are set ahead of time. There seems to be an assumption in your post that a "we" exists who has some role that is differentiated from "simply" participating in the dialogue - this person or persons who at some point bows out and relinguishes control. So perhaps you are suggesting that there is control in the beginning - that changes into something else if the dialogue is successful, or as Nancy says, when we are in a state of dialogue.
In reply to Brenda Kaulback

Re: Do we even have a good sense of dialogue practices offline?

by Nick Kearney -
Yes, Brenda, I think that is what I am suggesting; in the same way as the final objective of any teacher should be to become unnecessary (for each learner in turn), the person or persons who initiate the process do have undertand their objective as to set things up, start things off and then step aside. Open Space doesnt just happen, it has to be convened and set into motion, and dialogue similarly is not common, so that achieving a state of dialogue requires similar processes (sometimes more complex ones, dialogue involves a commitment of the whole person, not something we are often willing to engage in in many contexts). But the fact that somebody needs to start things off, does not mean that somebody has to direct the process (and directing, whether you do it from behind or in front or from the side, means controlling, and limiting, the process)

The hardest part however is perhaps that dialogue does not always progress smoothly from that starting point, it can be necessary to intervene and restart or reorient the process if it dissolve into something else. This requires the convenor, facilitator, individual, participant to be at the same time fully commited to the process and capable of observing the process on another level in order to decide whether intervention is necessary. Two minds. Fully participant and observing.

But I would suggest that this is perhaps something all participants should be abe to do, that it is part of dialogue, not the responsibility of one participant, but of all. One of the diificulties for anyone in dialogue is to resist the impulse to stop listening, and drive the agenda in a particular direction.

A convenor may be necessary, but convening is not the same as leading. In Open Space a convenor brings people together, and may explain ways of going about the definition of the agenda, but the actual definition of the agenda is up to the participants. You could say that a leader points the way, or shows the way, while a convenor creates a privileged democratic space to be explored, by all. I would even go so far as to wonder whether leadership and dialogue may not be incompatible. Leadership, however you cut its cloth, is about defining a linear direction, while dialogue is a space. Chalk and cheese.
In reply to Nick Kearney

Re: Do we even have a good sense of dialogue practices offline?

by Brenda Kaulback -

Nick, I appreciate (and agree with) your objections to the word leadership in relationship to dialogue - certainly to the extent that leading has to do with directing, managing, or controlling. Perhaps that is why Harrison uses words like "convener." It does seem, however, that there is a role that is different than that of participant or ones engaging in the dialogue - the one who takes responsibility for stepping in to "restart or reorient the process." I would suggest that this person does this most effectively when it is someone whose primary role is to attend to process. In an educational setting, that is the teacher or professor. In other settings, this is the facilitator or convener - the person who "sets things up, starts things off,  and steps aside."

I also wonder if that role doesn't ideally involve some function at the other end of the process as well - like bookends, perhaps, framing the conversation - the one who closes and or leads a closing process - or just posts a thanks to everyone and says this convesation is over. In that sense, that person holds the space in a different way than the other participants - although I also agree that ideally everyone takes responsibility for doing that as part of his/her participation.

Perhaps I say these things as a result of my involvement in my own kind of dialogues - which are in business settings or community settings, where people are interested in results and want to carry something from the dialogue into action.

In reply to Nick Kearney

Re: Do we even have a good sense of dialogue practices offline?

by Cindy Xin -
Nick believes "the ... distinction between terms like interaction, or discussion or even perhaps conversation, and the concept of dialogue is important." He repeatedly questioned what consititue a true dialogue and the need of control in dialogue.

At the start of this forum
I was struggling with what’s the best word to use to describe this “talking” business we do in discussion forums . So far, I’ve used the words dialogue, conversation, discussion, and discourse interchangeably. In fact, they do have different connotations. As an ESL person, I’m no expert in word use, however I get the sense that discussion is more of a general term used for any kind of talk for debate, problem solving or decision making. The word discourse indicates a formal discussion of a topic either through speech or written text. About the difference between dialogue and conversation, I recently read a distinction between them in a book called “Conversation learning” by Anne Baker, Patricia Jensen and David Kolb. By tracing into the etymology roots of the two words, the authors explain that dialogue is more related to “opposing voices in search of truth,” a word preferred by critical theorists and other theorists who are epistemologically oriented. In contrast, the word conversation is used by more ontologically oriented writers, such as Gadamer and Rorty who focus more on human understanding and experience than on abstract knowledge. This explanation is useful in helping us to see that there are different purposes and spirits in the kinds of talks we engage, whether online or offline.

Despite which word we use, when we engage in a conversation or a dialogue, we sometimes carry a cooperative and tolerant spirit and strives for mutural understanding. Sometimes, we investigate in an issue, solve a problem, make a decision, and struggle for consensus. Sometimes we are critical and skeptical, and question each other's positions, assumptions. The power of a debate, or as Piaget puts it - "the shock of our thought coming into contact with that of others", often furthers learning and understanding. Yet, some other times we use questions and statements to lead a discussion towards a definition conclusion as in the context of "Socratic methods." I see all of these happening online, all have their value, and all contribute to a true dialogue.

In the context of this seminar and the SCoPE community in general, I do agree with Nick that what we need is a democratic spirit that relinquishes control.  Nick, I believe you will like this quote from Gadamer:

The more genuine conversation is, the less its conduct lies within the will of either partner. Thus, a genuine conversation is never the one that we wanted to coduct... [It is] more conrrect to say that we fall into coversation, or even that we become involved in it... . A converation has a spirit of its own, and the language in which it is conducted bears its own truth wihtin it - i.e., that it allows something to "emerge" which hence forth exists.

So be it.

Cindy
In reply to Cindy Xin

Re: Do we even have a good sense of dialogue practices offline?

by Andrew Feenberg -
I think we should not lose sight of the difference between informal conversation among equals and a classroom situation. Students don't expect or want to be equal to the teacher. They hope the teacher will know something they don't know and need to learn. The problem is one of transmission, not the political problem of freedom vs. tyranny. But as all sensitive teachers know transmission isn't like filling a jug. I recall the wonderful Far Side cartoon which shows a little boy standing up in class and addressing the teacher: "Mrs. Brown, can I go home now? My brain is full." This is funny because it is so wrong. The knowledge of the teacher is transmitted not only by lectures or readings but also by involving students in various kinds of activities. Of course during the performance of these activities many things get learned apart from the direction of the teacher, but the teacher has access to a disciplinary tradition and methods that must be shared. Dialogue is the chief activity every online teacher should master. The hard part is using it to transmit the teacher's knowledge without stifling the discussion and preventing other kinds of learning from occurring.
In reply to Andrew Feenberg

Re: Do we even have a good sense of dialogue practices offline?

by Cindy Xin -
Thanks Andrew for pointing out the difference between the conversation among equals and that in a classroom situation. In the higher ed context, one of the main roles of the professors is to introduce the students to the disciplinary tradition of a knowledge community and engage them in the discourse of that community. Hopefully through meaningful dialogue, one day they will become its members. It seems to me some kind of intellectual guidance from the teachers has to be in place in this process to achieve the goal whether we call it leadership or not. It is certainly also true online. Is it not?
In reply to Nancy White

Re: Do we even have a good sense of dialogue practices offline?

by Brenda Kaulback -

Nancy, This is one of the big stumbling blocks I have found for people just beginning. In our company, we call it, the if-you -build- it -they- will -join in syndrome - referring to the folks who think all they have to do is open a space for people to join in and it will happen. Even Open Space has to have intention and someone to hold the space...

In reply to Brenda Kaulback

Re: Do we even have a good sense of dialogue practices offline?

by Nick Kearney -
This is interesting to me, Brenda. My perception is that when the state of dialogue ( I like Nancy's way of putting it) is achieved, that everyone holds the space. The intention has to originate somewhere, but once it takes (admittedly achieving this is not simple) it becomes the intention of all.
In reply to Cindy Xin

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Therese Weel -
Hi Cindy et al

Size doesn't matter. Better to have one good quality thread than a whole internet full of nonsense. 

Thanks for the Diagram Derek - Love those as well.  I appreciate a small amount  of well presented information.  Info-logue is a an excellent name for an online discussion. Meaningful discussions for the most part happen offline - on skype, in the park or at the water cooler.  Like most people I can talk much faster than I can type and convey much more.

What I like about online discussions is they provide a convenient opportunity to get together.  They are not as serious and intimidating as responding to a widely sent email.  What is important is not what is said but having the opportunity to have an exchange with a group of individuals - which may lead to something later on.  Don't have any stats but I think the more offline discussions and exchanges your software allows via private messaging and voice the better the public discussions will be.

What do you think a successful online dialogue should be like?

Meeting of people who already "know" each other or have a propensity to want to meet in the future. An online asynchronous dialogue is not an end in itself but a supplement to other conversations held in different mediums, voice, email, messaging and F2F. 

It is a shame that our posts are archived for posterity because online discussions shouldn't be taken too seriously - It's the internet for goodness sake. 

During our Scope Seminar last month we found it was difficult to keep the momentum going for three weeks.  Because our topic was so wide it provided less of  an opportunity for participants to get deep value out of the discussions.  Bits of the best is the better way to go.







In reply to Therese Weel

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Nick Kearney -
Therese, you say that an online dialogue is not an end in itself, but a supplement to other mediums, some of which are synchronous (messaging, voice, F2F) and one of which is asynchronous. Searching for the difference between email and asynchronous forums I guess you mean one to one email rather than email between groups of people. Is that correct?
I am not sure but my interpretation is that you ascribe higher value to synchronous (and perhaps one to one) interactions, than to asynchronous (and perhaps group) interactions. And perhaps (it's the Internet for goodness sake) F2F more than online interaction.
I may have misunderstood, but if I have read you right I must disagree. My experience personally is that online asynchronous dialogue, (dialogue, not conversation) though rarely achieved unfortunately, has a quality, a rich intensity, that is rarely achieved offline. Perhaps because it allows for a focus and a respectful, mindful attention that is hard in most offline contexts, though not impossible.
I dont think a state of dialogue is easy to reach, online or off, but I have to express disagreement with the idea that we should content ourselves with mere fragments (bits of the best) in our online interactions. Dialogue is achievable, and I would argue that is probably one of the most intense and rewarding learning experiences we can have. I see this forum, potentially, as an opportunity for exploring ways of achieving that.
In reply to Nick Kearney

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Lorie Mitchell -

And to add to Nick's thoughts...

There are times when F2F interaction and sycnhronous interaction are just not possible. I am putting together an online program where the students could potentially be all over the world. This dialogue MUST be meaningful and effective using asynchronous tools, as well as synchronous tools. It will be very difficult to do synchronous communication because of the time zone issues, etc.

I have also found that asynchronous dialogue can be very rich in an online classroom. Students have time to think through their responses not only to the instructor, but also to their fellow students, allowing for a deeper answer and dialogue to develop. I love watching it happen.

Lorie

In reply to Nick Kearney

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Cynthia Alvarado -
The big positive that I see in asynchronous dialogue, is that unlike f2f, the participants have that extra wait time to formulate their ideas and really express things in ways that clearly represent the intended meaning. I also appreciate the opportunity to ponder the previous communication before responding. 
In reply to Therese Weel

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Brenda Kaulback -

Therese - I was intrigued by your comments on archiving the dialogue, as my experience (or perhaps it is my Myers-Briggs) leads me to see the archiving as one of the most wonderful aspects of online dialogue. I am someone who loves to go back and study and think about things over and over and analyze them to my heart's content, so it is with delight that I look upon this ability to review a dialogue. Of course, I am also someone who reads favorite poems many times without tiring and I can see a movie (well, good ones)  three or four or more times - discovering new things each time and having a different experience with each viewing. So, I am not sure what the reason is...but there you have it. Maybe on line dialogue is good because we can each gain different things from it.

I will also say that, since the online dialogues that the company that I work for engages in are for the purpose of generating and analyzing knowledge for organizations, much of our work is focused on summarizing and analyzing the dialogues in which our communities participate. When the participants read our postings about the conversations, they often say things like "Wow, I didn't know we were so smart. We said alot of really good things and I didn't even know it until I read your summary!"

(I want to now go back and read the reference that Liz Wallace referred to in an earlier post to see if our dialogues fit the definition that she suggested!)

In reply to Brenda Kaulback

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Brenda Kaulback -
Is anyone else having trouble with having the postings show up in a certain order? I get the same order whether I ask for newest first or oldest first?? (Maybe it is me; I haven't used this particular platform before.)
In reply to Brenda Kaulback

the linear and cyclical nature of online dialogue

by Cindy Xin -
I'd like to comment on one of the points Brenda brought up in one of her postings -
"...my experience (or perhaps it is my Myers-Briggs) leads me to see the archiving as one of the most wonderful aspects of online dialogue. I am someone who loves to go back and study and think about things over and over and analyze them to my heart's content, so it is with delight that I look upon this ability to review a dialogue."

Brenda's comment describes perfectly the linear and cyclical nature of online dialogue. On the one hand, we carry on a conversation that flows linearly along time. We can perfectly sequence all the postings from the earliest to the latest based on the time stamps assigned to each. This is the explicit production that gets recorded. On the other hand, because of archiving, we are able to go back and revisit the old postings over and over again. We ruminate and reflect on what's been said. This implicit and cyclical thought process gives us the insights and understanding, which in turn produces the postings. There is a dialectical play between the linear production of the postings and cyclical process of the reflection.
In reply to Cindy Xin

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Take one.

by Lorie Mitchell -

I haven't read all the responses yet, but I will post my answers and then begin reading (probably the wrong way to do this!!).

What do you think a successful online dialogue should be like?

Successful online dialogue should be an interactive dialogue. It should never be a simple yes/no question to begin with and it should never have ONE answer. It should lead to a genuine sharing of ideas and thoughts.


How is it similar to and different from fact-to-face dialogue? And so what?

The difference simply comes down to not being able to read facial expressions and not hearing tone of voice. It can really lead to some complications at times when tone is implied in an online dialogue. I had an incident this semester where the student used all caps and it started a huge war, basically, on my discussion board. I had to step in and calm the situation and remind the student not to use all caps. She swears that she didn't intend to use all caps nor intend for that to mean she was yelling. Well, combined with her words and attitude, it really came across BAD. ;)


What is your past experience of success and failure, and what made it succeed or fail?

I'm still working on this. I've had some weeks of discussion go GREAT in my online computer lit class. I've had other weeks that have totally bombed. I think part of it is the questions I've asked, and part of it is that the students just weren't around that week because of whatever reason. Last semester the discussions went great every week, while this semester there were weeks where we only had a few responses. It's very frustrating to me as a teacher to see such disparity between semesters.

Lorie

In reply to Cindy Xin

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Trust!

by Bonnie Murray -
Hello all.
I apologize for lurking (although somehow I feel I shouldn't have to) but I have been too busy to actually sit down and read the posts and think about them. In addition, I tend to be the type of person we are talking about...the ones who don't participate.

I am not going to address the questions Cindy raised as everyone has contributed many thought-provoking responses, but rather, I'd like to pose another one.
I have observed through my online studies and also through facilitating an online program that 1) there seems to be an implicit assumption that active participation is an essential component of learning; and 2) if a participant does not actively engage in the discussion, there is doubt as to whether learning has taken place.  This is evidenced by the requirement in most online courses to post, with marks dependent on participation.

Shalni Gulati suggests that "participation in online discussion is not a neutral experience and may be influenced by learner's contexts, their previous learning experiences, feelings of trust and safety to take risks and make mistakes, and power discourses due to and outside the online learning space. " http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/00003562.htmI

Based on my experience, I would agree that one of the most important aspects of fostering online dialogue is the ability to create a safe space--a place where enough trust is created to enable true dialogue to occur. The difficulty in creating such trust online hampers the development of dialogue,  for without it,  many  hesitate to  expose themselves  and their  thoughts to potential ridicule.

An interesting article by Burbole also discusses online dialogue, but with a different focus that (I believe) opens up a line of inquiry that could be useful to this discussion.  Pertinent to this I post this quote:
"The danger of dialogue, which represents itself as an open conversation in
which anyone can speak and any topic can be broached, is not only that certain people may not be speaking, certain things may not be spoken (or may not even be speakable in the terms tacitly valorized by the dialogue), but that precisely because the surface level of the engagement is so apparently reasonable, inclusive, and well intentioned, what gets left out, or who gets left out, remains not only hidden but is subtly denigrated. If you cannot (or will not) express yourself in this manner, the fault lies with you."

(Rethinking Dialogue in Networked Spaces,  http://csc.sagepub.com/cgi/reprint/6/1/107)


His article resonated with my experience of my (lack of) participation in online forums.
Bon
 
In reply to Bonnie Murray

Re: What do you have to say about online dialogue? Trust!

by Cindy Xin -
Hello Bon,

Wonderful to see your posting. I  hope you do feel safe to participate in this conversation space. I agree with you and believe feeling safe to speak up is a precondition for successful dialogue. Many people feel uneasy to speak, and often choose not to when facing audience in a physical space. Ironically online, the lack of physical presence of audience brings even additional communication anxiety. Providing a welcoming opening remark, modeling of communication behavior, gentle prompt, timely recognition, these are all things can be done to bring people into a conversation.

Cindy