Collaborative Networked Learning: A Guide/Task Oriented Messages

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Task Oriented Messages: The human side of getting the job done.[edit]

Introduction[edit]

Besides individual willingness and an overall supportive context, the facilitator can support the learning process directly with a number of specific strategies. Next I focus on task-oriented messages which support intra-personal and interpersonal learning. In this section,I focus first on different messages which support intra-personal learning and then focus on interpersonal exchanges.

Messages which facilitate intra-personal communication[edit]

Encouraging representation and articulation of tentative constructs.[edit]

Facilitation messages encourage formulation and representation of tentative constructs, based upon the current state of understanding. The facilitator would also encourage learners to look for patterns as well as support the individual as s/he attempts to formulate new patterns to encompass ‘’new’’ information which no longer fits previous understanding. The facilitator supports and encourages the learner to continue the intra-personal process. The individual learner may only feel comfortable representing these tentative understandings for himself. The facilitator can encourage the process without requesting that the learner engage in premature interpersonal communication.

Probing for additional examples or observations.[edit]

A facilitator can support learners by helping them discover or experience additional information or instances of events within knowledge areas in which they are working. For example, if my only exposure to software tools utilized a directory and file structure, I might induce that this structure was the only way computers organized information. However, through exposure to other systems I might formulate a different tentative hypothesis and then continue to refine that hypothesis as part of my on-going learning process.

Encouraging use of representational tools.[edit]

Oftentimes the individual can learn through the aid of a representational tool which allows them to map out their thoughts. Depending upon preference, the learner may use written words, pictures or spoken words, to formulate and communicate ideas for his/her own consumption before the ideas are ready for public consumption. Ideally in a collaborative network learning environment, the tools for self representation should feed directly into the shared network. Individuals would then have an opportunity to test out ideas with others.

Messages which facilitate interpersonal communication.[edit]

The work of Dr. Mildred Shaw is useful in helping to understand the types of task-oriented messages that facilitate learning. As part of her work in personal construct psychology, Shaw has identified different behaviors to help individuals attempt to extend and understand their own thinking in networked groups. The messages which facilitate the learning processes, helps individuals to:

  • see the relationship of their points of view to those of others;
  • explore differing terminology for the same mental constructs;
  • become aware of differing constructs having the same terminology;
  • extend their own construct systems through interaction with others;
  • share with others constructs that they have found valuable;
  • and finally facilitate areas of disagreement or agreement among members of a group.

Additionally, two specific types of task oriented messages can be discussed--(1)messages that facilitate individual meaning and sharing of meaning,(2) messages that lead to a shared meaning among all members, e.g. consensus or knowledge pooling.

Facilitating individual meaning or construct formation.[edit]

The availability and accessibility of relevant examples is critical to the on-going learning process. However, the example must be of personal relevance. Relevance would result from one of three conditions: the facilitator understands the learner and the state of processing at the time well enough to provide relevant examples, the individual is aware of his current state and is able to request the required knowledge independently, or the individual and the facilitator negotiate a strategy for discovery or uncovering the required information. One key advantage of message sharing in a networked environment is that collaborators theoretically have the possibility to draw on relevant information and knowledge from a wide range of sources, either from other participants directly in a synchronous channel such as through audio or video networks or through asynchronous channels such as CMC or by accessing information stored in any database.

Creating shared meaning, knowledge in a team.[edit]

Another important category of facilitation involves messages that create shared meaning among the group or work team. Rather than using the group as a "sounding board" or context for testing out their own meaning, members may attempt to create shared knowledge and understanding in a particular area. For example, a work group engaging in the process of design would ideally need to pool their individual knowledge in order to create a new product. They will eventually want to create a shared meaning, which would allow them to take action together to carry out the design. For example, the activities of groups who are using a combination of media to share individual drawings, an audio conference to discuss their meaning, and electronic mail or conference to exchange on-going messages are engaging in group learning and knowledge creation. The final integrated design is new knowledge which the group created through their collaborative efforts. Reaching a shared meaning such as occurred in this example involves a process of differentiation and integration, according to Johnson and Johnson (p.244). Differentiating messages proceed the integrating messages. ‘’’Differentiation’’’ involves seeking out and clarifying differences among members' ideas, information, conclusions, theories, and opinions. It involves highlighting the differences among members' reasoning and seeking to understand fully what the different positions and perspectives are. All different points of view must be presented and explored thoroughly before new, creative solutions are sought. ‘’’Integration’’’ involves combining the information, reasoning, theories, and conclusions of the various group members so that all members are satisfied. After differentiation the groups seeks a new, creative position that synthesizes the thinking of all the members.

Paraphrasing Guidelines for Group Learning[edit]

It is important to provide ways for checking the perception and understanding of the messages by all members of the group. Members often assume that they understand the intended meanings when in fact a shared meaning never occurs. Facilitating and the use of paraphrase is a vital part of collaborative networked learning.

Paraphrasing for confirmation of understanding.[edit]

One useful strategy which facilitates the collaboration process is checking understanding through active paraphrase. Johnson and Johnson( p. 244) suggest that the use of paraphrase for perspective-taking can advance understanding and shared meaning in groups. This involves a process of constant checking and rechecking understanding of individuals and the members of the group as interaction progresses. Using messages such as "Are you saying....." or "Let me see if I can summarize, how I see your point of view," the group moves toward shared meaning. The strategy of paraphrasing is designed to promote understanding rather than debate. The following guidelines have proven useful for facilitation through paraphrase:

  • restate the other person's messages in your own words,
  • do not indicate disapproval or approval,
  • do not offer advice, or blame until the other person has acknowledged the accuracy of your paraphrase,
  • wait for a confirming message from the other person before proceeding with discussion of the issue,
  • continue the paraphrasing process until confirmation is reached.

Using summary paraphrase to advance understanding and show sense of group progress.[edit]

Skilled summarizes messages and replies from members periodically as a way of moving progress along and reaching a shared consensus among the conference participants. Not only do the messages serve as a paraphrase, but since the messages are publicly displayed in the conference, they tend to serve as a documentation of group progress. Since each participant has an opportunity to confirm, reject, or modify the facilitator's paraphrase, the group can progress toward developing shared understanding and achieving its learning goals. While this strategy may add additional message traffic to the network, it is critical to processing the goal of shared understanding, necessary for group learning. Utilizing the strategy is generally easier in audio and video networks than asynchronous computer mediated messaging systems. In computer mediated communication systems the delay between message and feedback might tend to inhibit paraphrasing, nonetheless, the strategy is necessary and effective.

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