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

Papers and resources to share

Papers and resources to share

by Cindy Xin -
Number of replies: 18
In this thread, I invite you to share your favorite papers and resources on online dialogue. I have two to start with.

Andrew Feenberg is one of the pioneers of online education. In 1989, he published a paper titled “The written world: On the theory and practice of computer conferencing.” Eighteen years later, the paper is still considered by many one of the most insightful studies of computer conferencing. It explored many important aspects of online dialogue, such as facilitation, motivation, management of identity, social network, etc. that are still very much of concern and under study today. If you haven’t read this article, I highly recommend that you do. If you have, read it again. You will discover more.

The second one is a bit of self-promotion. Most recently, Andrew Feenberg and I have co-authored a paper titled “Online pedagogy: The dynamics of online discourse” published in the Journal of Distance Education (vol 21, issue 2). In this paper, we investigate what we consider four essential aspects of online educational discourse: intellectual engagement, communication and common ground, dialogue and motivation, and group dynamics and leadership. In this seminar, I hope to engage you to discuss each of the four aspects.

Cindy
In reply to Cindy Xin

Re: Papers and resources to share

by Nick Kearney -
Hello Cindy,
I have been looking forward to this seminar. So much so that I am taking time out for a moment to touch base (the importance of presence...) as I am not sure how much time I will have to participate before the weekend.
I have been working with a colleague for some months on the idea of dialogue in online contexts. My first reaction to your introduction, very much off the cuff, is to the word "leadership". I wonder how it fits with the concept of dialogue for you.
I guess my reaction probably has a lot to do with the way I understand dialogue, and how I understand the word "leadership". But before commenting further on that reaction (stating that I have an initial reaction is of course a comment in itself!) I am going to return to the papers...:)
All the best
Nick Kearney
In reply to Nick Kearney

Leadership & Dialogue

by Derek Chirnside -
Nick: From one of may favourite websites: http://www.infed.org/thinkers/et-rogers.htm#contribution

David Bohm sets out three basic conditions for Dialogue:

Participants must suspend their assumptions. ‘What is essential here is the presence of the spirit of dialogue, which is in short, the ability to hold many points of view in suspension, along with a primary interest in the creation of common meaning’ (Bohm and Peat 1987: 247). Suspending an assumption does not mean ignoring it, but rather ‘holding it in front of us’ ready for exploration. (This links very closely with Gadamer’s view of pre-judgements).

Participants must view each other as colleagues or peers. Dialogue occurs when people appreciate that they are involved in a mutual quest for understanding and insight. ‘A Dialogue is essentially a conversation between equals’ (Bohm et. al. 1991).

In the early stages there needs to be a facilitator who ‘holds the context’ of dialogue. ‘Their role should be to occasionally point out situations that might seem to be presenting sticking points for the group, in other words, to aid the process of collective proprioception, but these interventions should never be manipulative nor obtrusive’ (Bohm et. al. 1991). They continue, ‘guidance, when it is felt to be necessary, should take the form of "leading from behind" and preserve the intention of making itself redundant as quickly as possible’.

And this:

Freedom to Learn brought together a number of existing papers along with new material - including a fascinating account of 'My way of facilitating a class'. Significantly, this exploration brings out the significant degree of preparation that Rogers involved himself in (including setting out aims, reading, workshop structure etc.) (Barrett-Lennard 1998: 186). Carl Rogers was a gifted teacher. His approach grew from his orientation in one-to-one professional encounters. He saw himself as a facilitator - one who created the environment for engagement. This he might do through making a short (often provocative, input). However, what he was also to emphasize was the attitude of the facilitator. There were 'ways of being' with others that foster exploration and encounter - and these are more significant than the methods employed. His paper 'The interpersonal relationship in the facilitation of learning' is an important statement of this orientation (included in Hirschenbaum and Henderson's [1990] collection and in Freedom to Learn). The danger in this is, of course, of underestimating the contribution of 'teaching'. There is a role for information transmission. Here Carl Rogers could be charged with misrepresenting, or overlooking, his own considerable abilities as a teacher. His apparent emphasis on facilitation and non-directiveness has to put alongside the guru-like status that he was accorded in teaching encounters. What appears on the page as a question or an invitation to explore something can be experienced as the giving of insight by participants in his classes

The right kind of leadership is there, hidden or explicit.
Leadership as status (bigger office with a free carpart) is different to leadership as function.
Leadership that holds onto itself and it's goals in the wrong way hinders dialogue.
In my thinking anyway.

I have chosen to actively use the term leadership in my work.  Emergent leadership (based on who you are and your expertise - not mere formal position) - Servant leadership (As in the work of Robert Greenleaf) Hero to Host (Margaret Wheatley) - I see this as reclaiming the role from where it has been ruined by politics, power and money. 
But I've not read the readings Cindy.  I may be way out of left field.  :-)
In reply to Derek Chirnside

Re: Leadership & Dialogue

by Cindy Xin -
Nick, thank you very much for bringing up the topic of leadership. Leadership, I believe, together with many others, is the central concern of online dialogue. And thank you Derek for giving us some real chewy food for thought on this topic! There is a lot to think about your message.

I was recently at a workshop. Someone asked a question of how come there were so many online discussion forums but only a few of them were active. The answer lies in leadership. Simply imagine the seminars hosted in SCoPE without the facilitators/moderators or imagine SCoPE without Sylvia. We wouldn’t get very far, would we? This is particularly true online because of the asynchronous and many-to-many nature of the communication. An early work in conversation analysis investigated mundane daily conversation between two people and concluded that conversations were highly coordinated activities that consist of collective performances of participants working together (Clark and Schaefer, 1989). Online we have multiple people, often multiple concurrent threads, engaging in substantive matters. The complexity is multi-fold. Leadership is essential in getting people started in a dialogue, sustain it, and advance it.

Derek has said leadership is not in its status or its formal pointed position, but rather in its function. I think we can all readily agree on it. But what are the functions in leadership in online dialogue? Facilitator, guide, moderator, servant, hero, host, etc. etc., these are all powerful roles. Let’s drill deeper into these roles and see what the functions (what do they actually do) lie behind. Hopefully this will help us crystallize our understanding.

Clark, H., & Schaefer, E. F. (1989). Contributing to discourse. Cognitive Science, 13(2), 259-294.

Cindy
In reply to Cindy Xin

Re: Leadership & Dialogue

by Susan Alcorn MacKay -

Thanks Cindy for putting so much thought into facilitating this forum. And I think that's the point...on-line leaders need to spend considerable thought and time constructing the ideal learning environment that will encourage, sustain and celebrate on-line dialogue. I facilitate a dialogue for special education teachers on-line - their biggest complaint is never having enough time and the random search for resources on-line (what a way to lose 4 hours on a sunday!)

Here. you've given a great example of prep - the wiki, thoughtful responses and great resources embedded in the dialogue - no time spent googling here!

Thanks, I'm enjoying this!

:) susan

In reply to Susan Alcorn MacKay

Re: Leadership & Dialogue

by Monica Macaulay -

To build on the discussion of leadership function I believe regardless of your role (facilitator, guide, moderator, servant, hero, host, etc. etc.) the first function of leadership should be to obtain a good understanding of your audience/students.  It has been my experience that until you understand the needs, backgrounds, and goals of your audience you can't fully function as a leader to them.  Some audiences might require and demand a more formal relationship placing the leader in more of a teacher-type role whereas others may require a softer approach to leadership such as through the role of servant.  Either way I believe information transmission needs to take place but the extent to which it takes place successfully will depend on how the leader re-invents him/herself to meet the audience's needs.  <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

Phew.....did that make any sense???

Thanks for this discussion I too have been looking forward to it.

Monica

In reply to Monica Macaulay

Re: Leadership & Dialogue

by Cindy Xin -
Thanks Susan and Monica for your responses.

Anyone who has facilitate online discussion can agree with Susan - “on-line leaders need to spend considerable thought and time constructing the ideal learning environment that will encourage, sustain and celebrate on-line dialogue.” It is true also for quality face-to-face teaching. The difference is that online, the communication link is much easier to break than it is in a physical classroom. All you have online is pretty much text. There is no physical tension, the silent eye contacts, etc. etc to hold your audience. If one is not careful and thoughtful, one can quickly loose her audience, and it is very easy to quit online. Therefore as an online lead, one must spend much thought in structure the conversation and considerable time prepare one’s responses in order to keep a discussion going in an engaging way.

Interestingly enough, the reason we spend so much time writing our online responses is because we can. In the face-to-face environment we have to react quickly otherwise you miss the boat. Asynchronous communication gives us the time and space to reflect and to think carefully before respond. This is one of the most important features of online dialogue.

Knowing your audience is an important part of the preparation mentioned above. It is very true, as Monica pointed out, depending on who the audience is, it calls very different styles of leadership. In a typical undergraduate online course discussion, the instructor most probably needs to provide a lot more structure and exercise a lot more control than if she teaches a Ph.D. level or professional level class. This actually touches the control issue Nick argues in his latest message, which I’ll respond next.

Cindy
In reply to Derek Chirnside

Re: Leadership & Dialogue

by Nick Kearney -
Hi,

This is great Derek!! Thanks for your rich response. And I though I am not sure what others may think (and I havent returned to the papers yet either :) ) I think you are taking the issue to the marrow.

I believe the way dialogue works or not has a lot to do with the words and meanings we use. And when we use the word "leader" we are saying, I think, that there is a privileged voice, that is listened to above others.  Bohm centres on the idea of the facilitator. I dont feel the idea of leading from behind helps, the leader may play equal, may even make the coffee for others, but if they are seen as the leader, their views will be assimilated and acted on, whether explicit or implicit (participants will tend to anticipate even the silent leaders wishes, as they interpret them). I am not sure that this is dialogue, as Bohm understands it. But I guess that has a lot more to do with how I understand Bohm!!

I brought up leadership for a very clear reason, and I had hoped to read the papers again before commenting further, but the river moves on:). To me the question of leadership is fundamental; leadership implies a privileged voice. In other words leadership as function is the same as leadership as status. You may not wish it but those who accord you the function of leader will accord you the status of leader.

I see this as one of the key issues for anyone involved in education who is seriously interested in learner-centred approaches. How do we really, I mean really- no disguises, no rhetoric - relinquish that leadership role? Is that possible in an institution?

Or are we simply appropriating and subtly devaluing another marvellous, though immensely difficult approach to human interaction, and learning, for other (um, lets just call them "other" :) ) purposes?  Albeit despite ourselves?

Though I find the endeavour to reclaim the term wonderful, I also see it as quixotic. I feel that the weight of the leadership literature is too heavy to avoid other interpretations, the term is very clearly framed and that framing conflates status with function and visa versa. I would argue that vocabulary matters, however much we may wish it otherwise. I would support a search for other terms to describe the role of the facilitator. And I cant say that emergent or servant leadership are terms that solve the issue, it continues to be leadership. And neither the hero nor the host has relinquished control, there is only a modulation in the nature of the control. I would see the search as a search for a word that expresses the way control disappears.

In addition to this, I would question whether the knowledge (and execution) of methodology, (that others within the dialogue may not have)  automatically confers the status or even the function of leader, and furthermore whether, when others any wish to accord this status or function, it should be accepted.

I guess the question I would ask relates to the statement:
Leadership that holds onto itself and it's goals in the wrong way hinders dialogue.

I would also ask, is there a right way to hold onto yourself and your goals? In dialogue? To what extent does the idea of suspension allow us to hold on? My interpretation has always been that suspension involves stepping outside, a separation or a voluntary relinquishment of one's objectives. Rather like jumping off a high building :)

All the best
Nick
In reply to Nick Kearney

Re: Leadership & Dialogue

by Cindy Xin -
Nick you have raised many valuable points in your message. I’d like to respond first to the problem of control.

You argued, “I see this (leadership) as one of the key issues for anyone involved in education who is seriously interested in learner-centred approaches. How do we really, I mean really- no disguises, no rhetoric - relinquish that leadership role? Is that possible in an institution?”

You later said, “… neither the hero nor the host has relinquished control, there is only a modulation in the nature of the control. I would see the search as a search for a word that expresses the way control disappears.”

Let me be a bit controversial here. I’d like to ask the question – do we really want control to disappear completely? Is all or any kind of control undesirable? John Dewey, the man who started the learner-centred approach, eloquently argues, “the mere removal of external control” cannot guarantee “the production of self-control.” “It may be a loss rather than a gain.” Dewey write, “to escape from the control of another person (may be) only to find one’s conduct dictated by immediate whim and caprice; that is, at the mercy of impulses into whose formation intelligent judgment has not entered. A person whose conduct is controlled in this way has at most only the illusion of freedom. Actually he is directed by forces over which he has no command.” Learning occurs, Dewey argues, when teachers exercise control indirectly through “work done as a social enterprise in which all individuals have an opportunity to contribute and to which all feel a responsibility.” Productive community life of this sort, Dewey insists, “does not organize itself in an enduring way spontaneously. It requires thought and planning ahead.”

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education. New York: The Macmillan Company.

So that was quite a bit of quoting, but I think it is needed to show that Dewey actually makes important argument for himself on what he implies by learner-centred approach. Nick, I realize that when you were talking about the issue of control, perhaps you meant at a much macro level. I am more thinking about the classroom contexts, hence the quotes from Dewey. So I think what I’m trying to say is that depending on the contexts and the characteristics of the group members, control may or may not be a bad thing.

Also based on Dewey’s argument, I believe group activities are often more successful when leadership is shared among members who all feel a responsibility to contribute to their collective enterprise. It is particularly true for online dialogue where leadership is responsibility.

Cindy
In reply to Cindy Xin

Re: Leadership & Dialogue

by Susan Alcorn MacKay -

My first Wiki posting - its easy!

The whole question of leadership it seems to me is one that has/is evolving which makes the whole issue of on-line leadership/facilitation so interesting.

The article I posted on the WIKI by Larry Lashway, JoAnn Mazzarella, Thomas Grundy, Portrait of a Leader, gives quite a bit about the traditional leader in a school (principal) and goes on to give some traits or characteristics of leaders; energy & involvement, competence,  (intelligence, technical skills, interpersonal communication), communication, listening, personality (sociability, psychological health, charisma), character.

These are the traditional views of the leader in say schools - now, how do we transform that to the on-line medium?

Likely most/all of those are important and I know much can come through careful crafting of writing - but the 'how' we say something is so critical too.

Its more than how we craft our responses, its also about supporting and guiding learners, especially during these transition years as we move from my generation (first wiki posting ever) to the gang who live on these platforms. While figuring out how we are going to be able to mentor the seasoned folks to work in this format and passing on the skills and knowledge to the emerging professionals who know the medium but perhaps not the content so much.

I suspect the portrait of a leader on-line will take from the core traits and tweak them to this platform - I guess the how is what we're talking about!

:) susan

In reply to Susan Alcorn MacKay

Re: Leadership & Dialogue

by Cindy Xin -
Kudos for you, Susan for making your way into wiki for the first time! And I'm glad to hear it was easy for you. Thank you for the reference and I'll definitely check it out.

I must also thank Susan for re-focusing our attention of our discussion at hand in the context of online dialogue. So far we’ve had some very valuable discussion on leadership, but largely from the sense of social psychology. By all means, it is very much relevant to the topic of this seminar and there is much left to talk about so do keep it going. However, as Susan asked, "how do we transform that to the on-line medium?"

Leadership in online dialogue to me is not so much in the sense of a leader as in a social group, but rather in the sense of a leader to keep a dialogue going as in a play – each move is to evoke the next move so as to keep the game going. In a sense, we can think of it as a dialogue game. There is a tension of a back-and-forth motion that goes from one move to the next. Gadamer (1982) emphasizes the tension of this to-and-fro motion as the central attribute that relates partners in play. What draws us to a game is the interest in the next move in the action. In online dialogue, Feenberg argues that what keeps it alive is the effort to initiate the next move and avoiding making the last one. To sustain the dialogue game, each message fulfills a triple goal: to respond to something that was said previously, to communicate something new, and to evoke further response. Here, I see the leadership role lies in the effort to produce these kind of messages. As you can see clearly such kind of leadership must be shared among the participants for a dialogue to be successful. A moderator assumes a big part of this responsibility but her success is largely measured by how effectively she is able to get other participants to shoulder the responsibility naturally as the situation calls for it.

Does this make sense?

Gadamer, H.-G. (1982). Truth and method. New York: Crossroad.

Cindy
In reply to Cindy Xin

Re: Leadership & Dialogue

by Susan Alcorn MacKay -

It does make sense Cindy! in the struggle to see the transformation from traditional 'leader' to on-line leader/facilitator, I'm reminded that while many of the same qualities are helpful, some of them may not be. And what a great leveller on-line learning is!

I work in disability services and find that all types of people with various challenges that are immediately obvious in the classroom, are completely equal in the on-line classroom.

what fun!

susan

In reply to Cindy Xin

Re: Leadership & Dialogue

by Andrew Feenberg -
I would like to point out that there must be a teacher somewhere involved in what we call education. It's not that people are unable to learn on their own but we don't usually call that education even if it has the same results, and no one is expected to pay tuition or get grades and degrees for their own private efforts to learn.

Online dialogue in an educational context ought to include the teacher in some way. This is an institutionalized leadership role students expect to see fulfilled by a qualified person. Their expectation is that the teacher will bring content to them from a tradition of learning such as facts, concepts, and methods of a more sophisticated sort than the students themselves already know about. If learner-centered education does not find a way of doing this, it will likely be experienced by students as disappointing and they will fail to enter the disciplinary field their course was supposed to help them enter.

The problem with doing this in online classes is that lecturing is impossible. An online "lecture" is little different from a photocopied article and no would call handing out photocopies in class a meaningful pedagogy for all its usefulness. Only through discussion can the teacher lead online. But it is not easy to lead online discussion. It is a real balancing act between too much intervention and too little. I do not find general theories very helpful in achieving balance. What is needed are pointers and examples and software features facilitating online participation.

I think that training for online education is usually woefully inadequate because it focuses too much on technical issues and too little on actual pedagogical techniques of online discsussion. These can be described but even better is to model them in practice sessions online. Without that sort of preparation I suspect many teachers fail and form a negative opinion of online education or conclude that it does not involve dialogue at all.
In reply to Andrew Feenberg

Re: Leadership & Dialogue

by margot mcneill -
Hi Andrew,
 I agree that many teachers are not prepared for online facilitation and can then be critical when the outcomes are less than satisfactory. It seems to me that one of the gaps is in teachers understanding of the importance of scaffolding - they can still retain control and not just leave students to their own devices in the learning process. The role of the teachers is still critical - it may have just moved from 'lecturing'. 
Regards,
Margot
In reply to Cindy Xin

Re: Leadership & Dialogue

by Monica Macaulay -

I like controversial....<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office" />

I think it's important to recognize the stages of group development in this discussion.  Now I know I have an article on this somewhere....am I likely to find it?  Probably not.  So I will try to recall a few of the main points. 

The Stages of Group Development asserts that groups move through a series of stages and these stages can be applied to most if not all contexts.  As a group forms everyone enters on a "level playing field."  Everyone is a little uncomfortable, trying to find their place, trying to understand and learn about others around them.  Once that comfort level is established and members feel included they begin to take more risks, this is called the Storming stage.  During this stage many things can happen one of which is individual domination of the group.  This can change the chemistry of the group entirely.  All of a sudden the learner-centered approach is jeopardized and the "leader" has to once again step in and attempt to level the playing field.  So ultimately “control” is never really be relinquished.  I suppose one way around this is to work with the group at the onset to lay down ground rules as to when intervention by the "leader" will take place and under what circumstances the group wishes to work things out collectively. 

I think we have probably all had first-hand experience and maybe this is just human nature....

Monica

In reply to Monica Macaulay

stages of group development

by Cindy Xin -

Monica,

I think what you meant was Bruce Tuckman's (1965) 4-stage model of group development.  He labelled the stages as:

1. Forming: The group comes together and gets to initially know one other and form as a group.

2. Storming: A chaotic vying for leadership and trialling of group processes

3. Norming: Eventually agreement is reached on how the group operates (norming)

4. Performing: The group practices its craft and becomes effective in meeting its objectives.

More information can be found at http://www.businessballs.com/tuckmanformingstormingnormingperforming.htm

In fact, I'd like to add a fifth stage - transforming. This is when the group reaches the point being able to achieve beyond the objectives it set for itself originally, to transcend, and to reinvent itself. I think it becomes the ultimate goal of growth for the group as a whole.

Cindy
In reply to Cindy Xin

Re: stages of group development

by Nick Kearney -
I have always found this model helpful as a way of thinking about the process of group formation. I have also found though that it is more useful as a model than a blueprint, I find the stages blend and recycle, and have found that the order can change at different stages.
As regards that last stage, of transforming, I agree with you that is probably the ultimate goal, both for the group and the individual. Not easy to achieve though, but then ultimate goals rarely are. I would argue that it is in this final stage, that dialogue emerges, the rest, though it may resemble dialogue and may be carried out in a spirit of dialogue, is perhaps just preparation for this.
In reply to Cindy Xin

Re: Papers and resources to share

by Brenda Kaulback -
Thank you so much for adding the info about the 1989 Feenberg article. I thought it was absolutely fantastic and I hadn't seen it. I can see why it might be considered a "classic!" I haven't gotten to the second paper yet, but I am looking forward to it...Thanks so much.
In reply to Cindy Xin

Re: Papers and resources to share

by Brenda Kaulback -
Oh, I just noticed that Andrew Feenberg is actually participating here - so I will repeat my earlier commendation to you here- thank you for an absolutely wonderful article!