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Task Discussion

  • Jennifer Claro   April 28, 2012, 9:55 p.m.

    Hi Everyone,

    It might be a bit late for me to write a post here, but I've marked up the paper a bit more (in blue) and replied to a few comments made by Rebecca and Jessy.

    I found this paper useful mostly for its lit review. Lots of good papers cited here, I highlighted a few in the References section I'll add to my pile.

    Sorry I didn't contribute much to this week's discussion. What's the paper for next week? I'll read it soon and post soon hopefully too.



  • Stian Haklev   April 28, 2012, 6:15 p.m.

    Hey guys,

    Jennifer Claro and I met on Etherpad today for an hour. We both felt that the paper had been pretty well discussed in this forum, so we talked a bit about how the reading group felt similar/different to our CSCL course last year, and some other things. We spent the last 15 minutes cleaning up all the notes and condensing it, I'll paste our condensed notes below:


    Today there were 2 members who did not discuss the paper (Stian and Jennifer)
    • Last year Stian really wanted students in the CSCL course to just take initiative and organize things, and invite people
    • Instead students would sometimes try to convince the whole class to agree on something, which led to a lot of discussion, but was not so productive
    • An interesting idea would be to invite some of the students from that course to go back, one year later, and do an "archaeological after-action review" (maybe with Joe Corneli), and look at how things played out using different learning theories, the social interaction etc. Could be an interesting collaborative research project. 
    • This was part of his motivation for just inviting to a synchronous chat session this time, as an experiment, even if he wasn't the course organizer or hadn't "asked anyone's permission" (of course students don't have to, but we need to model that)
    • Jennifer thought the synchronous sessions last year were really great, and made us into a community - important because outside of the chats, the course felt a bit "disconnected". (Althoug the bi-weekly newsletters really helped - something similar, perhaps weekly, could be useful in this reading group).
    • Stian has a bunch of ideas of things we could try to do in the chats, such as collaboratively creating an artefact (like this chat summary which Stian and Jennifer are creating live during the one hour meeting), trying out different online collaboration tools, splitting into small-group discussions etc, not just "discussing" without structure in a big group
    • One of the advantages of the CSCL course was that the readings had already been selected after a lot of work by the organizers, and so were all of quite high quality, and also built on each other to a certain degree. But of course, this also meant that it was a lot of work to put together the course, as opposed to just coming up with an idea for a reading circle, and having it "happen" almost immediately. 
    • There is a value, though, in having a group of people who have gone through a number of papers together, and especially if these papers somehow build or relate to each other - you build a shared context, which presumably makes subsequent discussions much richer and more meaningful. It will be interesting to see to what extent that can happen in this reading circle. 
    • There could also be different ways of structuring how we choose papers, for example asking each person who joins to suggest a paper that they "stand behind", and which they can introduce to the group etc. Stian talked about John's proposal to have an automatic TEDx group, where everyone joining suggests one video, and after ten people joins, a new course is automatically created - the system will randomly select one video per week to be discussed. Something similar could be used for a reading circle. 
    • We discussed motivation in online groups and how the number of tasks should be kept low so that people don't get overwhelmed by too much structure and too many activities (summary of week's interactions and main points, blog posts, online chats, all time consuming)
    • We discussed the need for cohesion of papers leading to depth of exploration of ideas, but also the need for very different papers which would shake us up a bit
    • Vygotsky book club is on the back burner for future use - but it's a neat idea to have courses built on books, because you can read one chapter per week - no challenge in choosing what to read, and you are (hopefully) guaranteed internal consistency, you can dig really deep into the material etc
    • Vision of "long tail of reading groups" - if we had 10s of thousands of learners at P2PU, ideally we'd be able to find 5-10 people who were really interested (and had time) for almost any topic we could think of
    • It would be useful for all of us if our readings in here relate to our own research, possibly our lit reviews (some of us are in the process of reading piles of papers for our dissertation, would be nice to discuss relevant ones in our Researchers Homestead group)
    • We briefly discussed the need for more support for flextime students, especially long distance flextime students like me
    • Stian mentioned the lack of rigorous articles on online learning, I suggested he read around the topic and get into research done on groups "there is a lot of research on groups esp recently in organizations, how groups work together online and f2f... even things like cooperative learning, how we learn from each other, experiments done on how goals are best achieved by groups, what tactics work best, such acting in your own selfish interests or acting for the group, which is better [I like Axelrod's Prisoner's Dilemma]

    We'll try to repeat it same time next week, and you're all welcome to join us. Maybe then we'll spend more time on the actual paper :) 

  • Cheryl Ann   April 28, 2012, 11:17 a.m.

    I find it quite interesting about group work in general and online group work gives another dimension to it. I appreciated Table 1 - where the author refers to groups as canonical, communities non-canonical and networks amorphous. I never thought of this before.

    I often think of groups as collaboratie and have used Wenger's ideas in my reserach. I like to think of groups with members, with roles ranging from legitimate periphery to full participation (linking with of course novice to expert).

    In online groups - how do members understand these aspects of legitimate periphery participation? In addition Rebecca mentioned learning environments where characteristics of groups and the objectives of the groups needs to be considered. I really found that looking at the final objective (or the final artefact) signifant in group participation and also the persistence of group itself.

    Consider "Engestrom activity theory" - and think about groups and communities similar. Thinking about how subjects (individuals) are mediated through communities to complete tasks (final object)...or how subjects are mediated through rules creating communities. (Visuallizing triangle helps here :) )

    This is something that I am wondering (with respect to learning environments and online groups). (some practical aspects of groups and members in groups)...How do people negotiate within groups? What skills and how do you develop these skills to create a well functioning group, community, network? What is the discourse that promotes groups, communities, or networks?

  • Howard   April 28, 2012, 11:40 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Cheryl Ann   April 28, 2012, 11:17 a.m.


    I find the Stahl "cycle" (Stahl, 2006) a helpfull tool to get to grips with the relation between the individual and the group or network.

    In reply to your remark about the need to take into account charateristics and objectives when forming groups: there is a lot of research to chose from concerned with group formation (from e.g., the HR and education field). In educational settings, there are also a lot of team formation application aiming to help the teacher that take into account characteristics like personality and prior knowledge. But these are mostly used in formal settings, building on data already available in the LMS.

    I guess the quality and outcomes of group negotiation is also partly dependent on who is in the group. Extravert people tend to take on leading roles, while conscientious people get the job done, etc. Who you put together can also have an influence on the outcomes you might expect.

  • Stian Haklev   April 28, 2012, 12:41 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Howard   April 28, 2012, 11:40 a.m.

    I think another important difference between informal learning situations and formal learning situations is the external motivation. Not only is the group oten formed by fiat, or by randomly finding some other people in a new class where nobody know each other, but the students' main purpose is to get a good grade. I have been put into groups in a number of university classes, and I always hated it - you have to spend a lot of time coordinating with people, and mostly people just end up subdividing the research and then putting it all together at the end. I very rarely felt that I learnt a lot from intense collaboration with my small-group members. Whereas if I am at an unconference, or a P2PU meetup and we all split into small groups to discuss something, to bring it back to the larger group later, I feel like this is a very productive use of time.

    (So synchronous and asynchronous might be another different - I think it's possible to work/discuss productively with a larger group of people asynchronously, but synchronously, small groups that can engage intensively - offline or online - really shine). 

  • Stian Haklev   April 28, 2012, 10:59 a.m.

    As other members of the group, I was kind of disappointed in this paper. I posted my notes here. I understand the usefulness of very deep studies of interaction, but I thought the sample size of one single group with three members seemed extremely small for anything but a pilot-study. And especially when they seem to make very strong statements, not warranted by the findings, such as: 

    We think the present findings point to a need to reconsider theories of community and group development when the context is completely online

    Really? You think the present findings from three students point to a need to reconsider a huge amount of theories? (I'm not saying these theories shouldn't be rethought, but...). 

    The focus of inquiry also seemed very different from P2PU - students in a formal education situation, probably with very little exposure to Web 2.0 tools like wikis etc previously, being placed in a group by a teacher, and with a very scripted way of working, telling them exactly what steps to take as individuals, peer-to-peer (does this mean in pairs?) and in groups (page 8).

    This seems to directly contradict 


    Completely online small groups are not bounded by time, space or even membership. They gravitate toward assigned teams, and negotiate time and place within those teams and across the larger community. They do this when they are ready, and not the first time they are asked to. 

    (page 23)

    They also seem very focused on task performance, i.e how good a product the group can produce. There is no discussion about the correlation between this, and how much individual members of the group learn. (For example, a group where one strong student does all the work might have a better final product, than one in which every member strives to participate. Similar with all group members playing to their individual strengths rather than challenging themselves, etc). 

    On a positive note, I do appreciate the literature review aspects, there were a number of papers mentioned which I might want to look up. 


  • Cheryl Ann   April 28, 2012, 11:21 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Stian Haklev   April 28, 2012, 10:59 a.m.

    I agree with Stian -

    I didn't think of this paper as seminal work about online groups - I think that it had many limitations. However, I did like some of the theoretical background provided. As a study, there are many gaps (and perhaps that should be the next step) How would you take this and make the research more substantive?

    For instance...looking at this site as an example for reserach and study as example. What are the elements within this forum that would help for analysis? What would be the framework/and then corresponding online tools for the analysis? (Note to self, annotations, additional links)


  • Howard   April 28, 2012, 12:01 p.m.
    In Reply To:   Stian Haklev   April 28, 2012, 10:59 a.m.

    One might have to dig deeper into the team formation process to be able to say something about learning possibilities/opportunities and likeliness. Spread of background knowledge and the "right kind of personality" spring to mind. If your knowledge levels differ too much from another member you might not be able to learn (or teach for that matter) effectively. (Vygotksy's ZPD, the Master-apprentise paradigm)

  • Jessy Kate Schingler   April 26, 2012, 6:40 p.m.

    I think Rebecca's point about standards is really good. I've been thinking about that with respect to web devopment lately, and standards in the hardware world. We have standardized screws and nails and screwdrivers and wood sizes... They might not be the best possible or only possible standards, but having them makes it easy to build more substantial things with and on top of those standard ingredients. Presumably those standards emerged out of practice and experience... At what point does or should a community move towards standardization? And what are the inherent tradeoffs between homogeneity at one level (standardized ingredients or components) for the sake of our ability to create more substantial things out of those ingredients?

  • Rebecca Cober   April 27, 2012, 11:15 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Jessy Kate Schingler   April 26, 2012, 6:40 p.m.

    It did seem like the authors were making more out of the study and variation in tool use than was actually there, in terms of the data (and I found the data vis of the group formation really hard to grasp). Thirty pages was perhaps overkill (maybe it was someone's thesis... distilled down to an article?). But I guess what I took away from it is users of online learning environments may have difficulty forming a "community" because designers of these tools did not necessarily have "community formation" in mind when they created the environment.

    I know there are guidelines for designing websites (i.e. and there are probably design frameworks for online learning environments - especially a discussion of how tools can be integrated together. Perhaps someone has put together a list of papers that identify features that can foster community formation (e.g. does the use of a like button foster a sense of connection - but is that community? :)...)

    I agree with Jessy's point that there is this tradeoff between everything looking the same at the expense of stifling creativity and suppressing innovation, and creating and using design frameworks that allow learners to quickly understand how to use the suite of tools within the environment (and how they work together), effectively "zeroing out the interface" as Tufte would say...

  • Jessy Kate Schingler   April 26, 2012, 6:34 p.m.

     To be honest I found the paper a bit of a slog. It was very descriptive but I didn't feel like they identified concrete takeaways- methodologies, tools, structural design recommendations, format, etc. They did identify specific patterns in the group but didn't then explore whether those same patterns generalized to other groups. So, it kind of seemed like a catalog of observations but not much more. 

    Their study was focused on university students, which is of course totally legit but also somewhat different from p2pu (which is my angle on it at the moment), in that the initial decision to join an online course comes from very different motivations (loosely, one is part of a program with some set of requirements, and one is totally optional). 
    The logging system they used sounded like a plugin type of tool, and I wonder if it's something we might consider deploying to study groups on p2pu for research purposes,  
    Anyway, not sure if there's felt the same, but if you did then sorry for recommending it! :) but would love to hear what other people thought. I skimmed much of the parts that didn't interest me so there may well have been golden tidbits I missed, too ;)
  • Howard   April 28, 2012, 3:20 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Jessy Kate Schingler   April 26, 2012, 6:34 p.m.


    Just budding in: I read the article, but was wondering whether it was really about group formation? The group studied somehow already existed. It seemed to me that the article' focus was on describing negotiations around work processes and deducing team building after the initial group was formed. I thought this in itself to be interesting, but for DYI learners in social environments I would say you'd have to find peers first. In the article, the purpose of the group was already defined, something I would say doesn't go well with self-direction etc.

    If your interested in discourse analysis tools, why not check out a project I was involved in:
    Language Technology for Lifelong Learning

    Another interesting take on collaboration analysis can be found in Andy Dong's LSA (Latent Semantic Analysis) approach to analysing student discourse for convergence (and thus learning).


  • Stian Haklev   April 28, 2012, 10:47 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Howard   April 28, 2012, 3:20 a.m.

    Thanks, these both look like really useful links. Here's a link to a relevant paper by Andy Dong. Maybe we should make one of his papers a reading in this course?

  • Howard   April 28, 2012, 11:23 a.m.
    In Reply To:   Stian Haklev   April 28, 2012, 10:47 a.m.


    Yes, that is exactly the paper I was referring to. He also wrote a book called " the language of design". I wanted to use his work to build on for my PhD research, but couldn't fit it in, as I only focus on the team formation process, not the analysis of the actual work being done.

  • Rebecca Cober   April 24, 2012, 9:23 p.m.

    I thought the last sentence of the article provides some good food for thought:

    "Construction of tools that consider the critical aspects of community formation should drive the development of small communities in online contexts."

    It's interesting how tools become such a prominent feature of online environments... in an online course that I recently completed at OISE (the course was about constructivism in online environments...), much of the discussion centered around the effectiveness of the design of our online environment (PeppeR), critiquing various features, etc (we were being appropriately "meta" and relating our present experience to the readings).

    I also noticed that a lot of the discussion in that course focused on the difference between online environments and F2F environment. It's hard not to compare the two, when a lot of us are familiar with F2F learning environments, whereas online environments still feel novel.

    It makes me wonder what the designers of tools should be considering... What are the critical aspects of community formation? How can their designs drive the development of community? How will participants ever become familiar with the tools of online environments when there is no standard platform and new tools (e.g. crocodoc! :) ) are in abundance?