Collaborative Networked Learning: A Guide/Socio-emotional Messages

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Socio-emotional Messages[edit]

Introduction[edit]

First, I focus on the human communication process as it relates to facilitation in collaborative learning environments. As a basis for this discussion, I focus on major variables in the group model of learning presented in the introduction of this guide. I focus on socio-emotional messages that help create a group context where collaborative learning can occur. Next I focus on task-oriented messages which support intra-personal and interpersonal learning. Finally, I focus on the role of feedback in the facilitation of collaborative on-line learning environments.

Building Group Context[edit]

Socio-emotional messages for building a group context where learning occurs[edit]

Effective computer supported communication involves both the software and human interaction. It involves creating an environment with software interfaces which are easy to use and which match the collaborative needs of the learners. Just as in the physical classroom, much of the communication is directed toward creating an environment where people feel comfortable learning. It involves human interaction which creates a cohesive group in which members feel like they belong and can trust one another. In this section ,I stress two important aspects of socio-emotional messages i.e. messages that relate to concern for the person and emotional well being of the group. First, I discuss the importance of positive feelings about the context for long-term success in an electronically created environment. Second, I discuss trust as a critical variable which influences members' willingness to participate in the electronic environment.

Building and maintaining positive context is important for learning to occur.[edit]

For groups to engage in learning together for any period of time, attention needs to be devoted to maintenance of a context that shows acceptance and concern for the individual well being of the members. Often in networked environments, when the "clock is ticking", facilitation of context is ignored in favor of getting on with the task. Unfortunately, the task may be accomplished but the level of satisfaction with the media and group experience is perceived low. Individuals are consequently less willing to engage in similar networked experiences. Rice and Love in their study of "Electronic Emotion” explain that it is perhaps the group norms, goals, and structure of the community of participants that influence the amount of context building. If, for example, network use were restricted or oriented to exchanging task-oriented information only, it's unlikely that a cohesive group would develop. A number of CMC systems, either through Chat functions or Instant Messages make it easy to engage in personal exchange. Dr. Andrew Feenberg, while at Western Behavior Science Institute noted early on that different host software systems were designed to focus less on group dynamics and more on task dimensions of the work. For example, communication software that is completely topic-centered in organization while useful for short-term task accomplishment might make it difficult to exchange messages that contribute to building cohesive groups for long term collaboration. In a collaborative learning group, it is important to match the design of new software and the choice of existing software to the focus on building shared group context as well as task accomplishment.

Building trust and trusting behavior in learning groups[edit]

Mutual trust is conducive to learning.[edit]

Participants share a certain degree of personal risk sending messages and providing feedback to one another. If members of the collaboration do not trust other members, they will be less willing to participate and express ideas. For example, if an individual is constantly attacked, put down or told that they are wrong, that person will be less likely to continue to participate. Computer based notes conference participants generally attempt to discourage personal attacks put downs, and unfair evaluations of others and their ideas. When this occurs in a networked group, members of the group will generally attempt to discourage the communication. When members feel that they do not trust one another, they will withhold the vital feedback necessary for all members to achieve understanding, higher task performance and greater productivity. Attention to creation of context will vary with the needs of the group. For example, in groups where participation is ad hoc or the group was created for limited information exchange, less attention to context building would be required then in an on-going collaborative learning group. In an on-going collaborative learning group, more time and energy are required to create and maintain a supportive context, which is critical to success and continued participation.

Creating group trust encourages the risk-taking necessary to form new concepts.[edit]

The facilitator asks: "what can be done to encourage and challenge the individual to risk reconstructing his/her thought processes." Not only does the facilitator attempt to foster a context where members trust one another, but the facilitator attempts to create an environment in which the learner is encouraged to explore new ideas and learn within the context of his/her work. As a measure of trust, members of a team are constantly asking and answering the question: " If I were to openly express myself, will what I say be used against me." A member of a learning group will not test out hypotheses about new strategies or attempt to check out what has been understood, if another member is waiting for others to make a (mistake) so that s/he can correct. Trust and open participation would quickly deteriorate if this were to occur among a networked group of collaborators.

Mutual exchange of trusting and trustworthy messages are essential to building context.[edit]

In the previous section, I examined the importance of building trust for collaborative learning to occur within the group. I now discuss how trust might be established and maintained in the context of a collaborative networked group. Johnson and Johnson view the development of trust through a mutual exchange of trusting and trustworthy messages. ‘’Trusting’’ behavior is defined as openly expressing thoughts, feelings, reactions, information, ideas and resources. ‘’Trustworthy’’ behavior is defined as expressions of acceptance and high regard for the participants, expressions of support for the capabilities of members, and expressions that you are going to work with the other members of the group to achieve the group goals. Trusting and trustworthy behaviors will build upon each other to increase the level of participation and commitment to the learning goals of the group. Without conscious attention to the development and maintenance of trust in a collaborative group, the learning goals of the participants will not be achieved or the group at best will on lower level learning or information exchange.

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