Collaborative Networked Learning: A Guide/Software Support for CNL
Software Support for CNL--Intra-personal and interpersonal group support software
We are expanding our understanding of how much of the learning process can be facilitated on-line in an electronic environment. The more understanding we gain about the learning processes that occur in the individual and in conjunction with others, the more we can design systems that support the intra-personal and interpersonal processes critical to learning. Additional research regarding the intra-personal and interpersonal group processes will allow product developers to design more effective tools. In the previous section, I focused attention on critical aspects of facilitation that support learning in a collaborative networked environment. I directed attention to the particular communication variables of context, socio-emotional messages as well as intra-personal and interpersonal task-oriented messages, and discussed the role of feedback in relation to collaborative learning. In the next two sections of the guide, I discuss software developments in order to highlight specific features of existing technology which might be used to facilitate aspects of collaborative learning. First, I focus on intra-personal learning support tools. Specifically, I describe the use of the following: ‘‘simple’’ personal construct display systems, which help learners sort out the meaning of their own ideas; personal information systems such as outliners, mind mapping which help learners organize and represent ideas so they can see how their ideas fit together; and icon, graphic tools and simple simulation creation tools, which help the learner formulate mental ideas in some tangible form. Second, I focus on group software, interpersonal groupware and discuss specific features of existing tools to demonstrate how they might support collaborative learning. I am not proposing software replacement for human facilitation in collaborative network learning. Rather, I demonstrate that there are software tools currently available which facilitate aspects of the learning process. Computer facilitation support tools can compliment, enhance, and at times provide new support functions in an on-line environment.
Intra-personal support software
Helping Learners Sort Out the Meaning of Personal Constructs
Often learners have not tried to sort out the meaning of the constructs that they are developing in their own mind. Often ideas do not get formulated until the learner tries to express them. Dr. Mildred Shaw, who works in the area of personal construct theory developed and continues to refine tools. Shaw (1987) presented a software tool which provides individuals with an opportunity to formulate and re-formulate their own personal construct system. The software provides valuable knowledge to the learner in a safe environment, prior to sharing and comparing constructs with others. The system probes the learner to discover similarities and differences between elements (chunks of experience) much as a human facilitator might do. In her report, Dr. Shaw provides a simple example of how a learner might formulate knowledge about the construct of managerial effectiveness. The screens below help illustrate how the software would be used. First, the learner enters the specific purpose for the session, and is asked to keep the purpose in mind. The bottom half of the window will change as the elements and constructs are formulated. The next thing that the learner does is think of some managers and add these as elements of experience. The learner adds five managers to the elements window. The learner then engages in "triadic elicitation" in which s/he specifies in what way one of the three differs from the other two managers in the group of managers selected randomly by the system. The learner decides that AJ and BH are alike and different from VK. The learner types, ‘’needs supervision’’ as one pole of the construct. He would define the other end of the pole as the opposite, ‘’doesn't need supervision’’ The learner then rates all other elements on this scale. He can put the other managers anywhere on the scale. The learner has now created his first construct. He can now continue developing additional constructs using randomly generated triads from the five original managers. As a method to clarify his constructs, s/he can select the ‘’Highest Match box’’. This process takes him to a screen showing which constructs are matched. He can see from the display that when he is saying that a manager is a ‘’poor communicator’’, he is also saying that the manager has a ‘’narrow view’’. This situation could occur if the learner always associates ‘’poor communication’’ with having a ‘’narrow view.’’ The learner has the opportunity to further clarify this construct by adding another element to the list who is either a ‘’a poor communicator’’ and ‘’open minded’’ or ‘’a good communicator’’ and ‘’has a narrow view.’’ The learner can continue this process to externalize his/her own intra-personal knowledge structure, which is often out of his conscious awareness. When the learner becomes consciously aware of how s/he organizes his/her knowledge, s/he acquires valuable information which can support additional personal learning and construct reformulation. Shaw reports that learners generally respond favorably to the display and demonstrate a high degree of personal ownership. In contrast, messages supplied by an outside facilitator may not have the same degree of credibility and be dismissed. Once individual learners have formulated constructs individually they have an opportunity to share the constructs with others in their network. It is also possible to engage in ‘’perspective taking’’. To indicate his degree of understanding of other members constructs, the learner would complete a construct elicitation procedure on a scale created by another participant. The learner would complete the procedure as if he were the other individual. The system would then compare the degree of match. The results would indicate how closely the learner understood the other persons view of the selected aspect of the world.
Helping Learners Organize Ideas
‘’’Hyperinformation’’’ Much of the early process of concept formation consists of fragmented ideas, data, and pieces of information that may fit together only partially or possibly not at all. Some ideas may fit into a particular pattern while others may be in conflict. Hyperinformation systems provide a way for a learner to document and refine his/her own intra-personal communication process and eventually share that with other learners. According to Jeff Conklin (1987) each node could be thought of as representing a single concept or idea. In his analogy to semantic nets, he explains that the nodes and the links between nodes reveal the conceived interrelationships among ideas. For example, using the old notecard metaphor, the learners could display their own personal concepts in notecard shapes and then link them to other cards. The learners could also select from a library of icons to create a visualization of their personal knowledge system. Eventually, the individual learner may want to share a representation with others in the network as part of the on-line collaborative learning process. Intelligent linkages for new connections between ideas. When one adds minimal intelligence to the above systems, the learner might possibly be prompted to see relationships or connections not previously contemplated. Personal information management tools provide for the formation of linkages between bits of information, not previously specified by the user. They look for similarities in the personal database and make connects or advise the user of conflicts. While limited in intelligence and available only in a local environment, they provide a flavor of how intelligent support tools might aid the learner in discovering construct not readily evident. Research is currently being conducted on intelligent information systems which could support the learner in a distributed environment through display of previously undefined relationships in graphic as well as text form.
Graphic Software Tools for Representing Ideas.
Easy graphic and iconic display exemplified by systems such as the early outlining tools in word processing software as well as mind-mapping can facilitate the intra-personal learning process. The ease with which users can create pictorial representations of internal concepts, manipulate, and then share them with others is worthy of exploration, particularly for the visually oriented learner. Work is currently underway to extend these display capabilities to distributed networks for collaborative dialog.
Today, we are accustomed to working within the simulated environment of a desktop model of documents, an "in and out" tray, and "trash bins." The screen desktop has become the model of the world within which the user edits. A generic modeling tool of similar ease-of-use could help any learner formulate his/her current model of the world. The learner could share the model with others to test out hypotheses and understanding. A simple to use modeling tool has great potential. The learner would be able to externalize his intra-personal processes as they emerge. The learner could test out the validity of a construct system by making explicit his view of how properties would work together. Once constructed, other members of the learning group could "step" inside the simulated world to test out differences of opinion about the world, thus collecting data and verifying hunches as part of knowledge creation. The world could be a simulated business, or it could very well be the internals of new piece of hardware. These tools provide support for the intra-personal processes occurring within the learner. They help the learner sort out personal constructs, organize their own ideas and create graphic or simulated models of ideas. Ideally, one would expect the different intra-personal support tools to be sharable in a distributed networked configuration.
Interpersonal Support and Groupware for collaborative learning
Purposeful communication in groups is one of the key features of effective learning. A class of software, called groupware,  allows individuals to collaborate across barriers of space and time to change the way we work. Not only is groupware revolutionizing the way people work, it also has great potential for supporting the learning progress in collaborative groups. In this section, I will highlight several different kinds of groupware and discuss how they can facilitate collaborative networked learning. In specific I will focus on general knowledge worker support tools, specific features of groupware which could help build positive context, different tools for providing feedback in CMC collaboration. I also describe software that allows learners to share their personal construct displays with one another.
Knowledge worker tools
A number of tools are currently in use can be re-directed to support collaborative group work. Some of these have direct relevance to interpersonal aspects of group learning. Meeting facilitation tools for knowledge workers, although originally designed for collaborative work, can be utilized in direct support of the learning process, in a least two ways: to document and make publicly accessible the pooled knowledge among a group, to aid the group in development of a commonly shared integration of their individual knowledge. One seminal experiment with groupware, ‘’’Cognoter’’’ at Xexor PARC, provided for three distinct phases of group activity in support of a final presentation of a group idea (knowledge). The tool assisted the group in managing ideas to reach a shared consensus. In the process of working with the tools, members of the collaborating team engage in goal-directed behavior in three phases. Cognoter supported generation and sharing of ideas through group display, grouping ideas conceptually and linking ideas, consensus or final ordering of ideas into like categories for presentation of the group results. A critical feature of this software is the interface which provides for a graphic display of linkages between ideas.
Context building--Message structuring in interpersonal CMC
Each computer based conferencing system has its own unique structure for participants to provide feedback. Different systems provide for different organization of messages and feedback. For example, messages may be organized in linear fashion with replies( feedback messages) following each topic (original message). Other systems organize messages into keyword categories so that feedback are automatically associated with pre-defined key ideas. Still in other systems, graphic tree structures are used to display the organization of messages and replies. Messages and feedback structures can be in linked structures. Consequently, the learner would have extreme flexibility in structuring ideas and concepts and receiving feedback from others. While the communication richness of the system is vital to collaboration, the balance between variety of options and complexity of use will certainly influence acceptance of any system to support learning.
Interpersonal Tools for sharing feedback and refining ideas
One useful feature for building shared group knowledge is the use of consensus assessment routines such as voting. Voting has been a popular feature of system. It provides a mechanism for formal feedback. Systems provide a wide variety of pre-defined,1-5 rating scales as well as techniques for rank ordering items. User have the capability of defining their own scales for eliciting feedback on their ideas from other participants.
‘’Annotation’’ is feedback which allows one learner to send a message and another to respond in either voice or written form at any particular point in the message. Collaborative authoring tools allow to prepare a final written group document. Annotation messages can provide feedback up to five levels, comments on comments on comments, etc, as the group continues to refine its knowledge. At the end of the process, the group can review a listing of the ideas that influenced the group decision process over time and version. Not only is the group able to create knowledge together but they also have a record of feedback messages to on another to help them improve their overall group process.
One way that computer conferencing has developed for sharing ideas that are risky, is to provide for anonymous messaging. The message can be posted with the "FROM" portion of the message stripped off. When trust is low in a team, anonymous messaging can provide an opportunity for individuals to address sensitive issues. For instance, an anonymous message might help the group focus on its on 'process' at a time when no individual member felt comfortable owning the observation.
Another strategy is for groups members to establish themselves as a private group. In an intact group which is private, participants know that any messages shared will only be available to members of the group. If I knew that only a trusted group of individuals would have access to my messages, then I would be more willing to express ideas openly. Restricted, closed groups and private messaging are useful for increasing level of trust, and open dialog. However, the possibility of learning which might occur from open exchange with a variety of divergent opinions is lost when the group restricts access to the outside world. Both options are available in all forms of non broadcast electronic exchange. The decision is made based upon the purpose and desired outcomes of the group.
Simultaneous sending and receiving of feedback.
In two person conversational networks such as video or audio conferencing, users observe the turn taking rituals of face to face conversation. One person usually does not offer feedback until someone else stops speaking. In a group, however, individuals may break apart and speak in small units simultaneously. Usually, in CMC electronic systems the receiver would have to wait until the message had been sent to provide feedback. However, participant systems have been development which allow a group to display messages and provide feedback to each other without waiting for a replying. Each user has an assigned window in which his/her message is displayed. Participants are free to structure their own interaction. Members of the group each have a window unique to the sender for display of text messages. Each can provide messages or feedback to the group as a whole or to individual members simultaneous. Each member of the group is able to compare the feedback from several participants at the same time.
Hyperinformation for group concept formation
In the discussion of intra-personal tools, I explored how a hypermedia system might be used for manipulating ideas and concepts. The same software when distributed can be profitably used in group collaboration. Not only do hypertext and hypericon systems provide a way for learners to group different symbols together as well as document their reason for the connection name the links. For example, a team of writers who have all gathered information about different products, might want to pool their different individual pieces of information into a number of shared concepts(topics) for a final report of their knowledge. For example, given information about objects such as tape, floppy disk, CD-ROM, and hard drive. One participants might link the tape, floppy disk and CD-ROM together with a link such as "used with" Personal Computers while another might link the CD-ROM, tape, and hard drive together as "types of storage.’ Each writer could link any number of diverse pieces of information together to represent how s/he is organizing his/her knowledge. Once the structures are graphically revealed in a web-like structure of nodes and links, the different participants can now manipulate the structures through a graphic editor. By sharing their individual structures, members of the team would be able to form a new knowledge structure from which they could now all work together. Through the representation and sharing with this tool, each member has learned together through the collaborative efforts of the others.
Sharing personal constructs in a network
It is desirable for learners to share ideas which they have formed and externalized as part of their intra-personal learning process. An electronic networked environment can facilitate interpersonal knowledge creation and sharing, as Dr. Mildred Shaw has developed over the years at the University of Calgary Shaw has developed and demonstrated a working model of a networking participant system which provides for the sharing of knowledge about personal constructs. The system takes advantage of the graphic interface in a network Instead of constructing personal construct displays just for one's own understanding, members of a group agree on an area of common knowledge to be explored. Each participant would then individually develop their construct display girds. The completed grids would be stored in a database for later manipulation. Each participant then calls up the completed original and makes two copies, omitting the ratings. The participant then completes the other member's construct grid for oneself and then as if s/he were the originator. The degree of match is computed and then all three grids are displayed together. The learner can now see where the knowledge of the world is the same as or different from that of other members of the group. The sharable graphic display allows one member to see how others view the world, and can help them understand and use the constructs of others.
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