Strength of cohesive ties

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Learning takes place in a social context and this context can offer many resources, including structure, continuity and motivation. Online, two primary learning types of context have been identified, networks and communities. While networks may offer a wealth of people and resources, communities appear to offer richer learning possibilities. It is therefore important to investigate how online learning communities can be formed from online networks, and whether such a shift benefits learners. The study reported here focuses on two groups of teenagers, one a formal learning group from the USA and the other an informal learning group from the UK. The groups were originally only weakly tied in a network, but aimed to create a single learning community through activity in an online forum, wiki and virtual world. Thematic analysis of their forum posts shows the importance of cohesive ties – grammatical devices used to construct coherent narratives – to the development of key elements of community: spirit, authority, trade and art.

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  • Introduce the presenters
  • We know learning takes place in a social context. It’s worth looking at what the social context offers to learners….
  • Two primary types of learning context have been identified online: networks and communities. What is the difference between them – and what implications do they have for learning? Networks offer people and resources. Communities are more likely to offer • Contexts for understanding resources • Frameworks for learning within which we have a role • Opportunities for negotiation of ideas • Continuous threads of knowledge • Affective elements such as motivation and confidence Thus we have a focus in educational research on learning communities, communities of learners, communities of practice and communities of interest
  • So how are online networks and communities different? Spirit – the community has an ethos, it has boundaries, it has membership Trust – Authority structure, group norms and justice Trade – Members find ways to benefit each other and the community Art and History – Create and symbolise a narrative around the community
  • Communities are constructed, in part, through language. In the case of learning communities, they need to develop shared understandings of what they are trying to achieve, and shared knowledge on which they can build. This is done through discourse In Second Life, the language used to shape communities is often primarily text based. It does not include only interactions within Second Life, but related interactions through other social media, including blogs, wikis and forums. In all these settings, we have to work to establish coherence – to add our contributions to an ongoing dialogue.
  • How do we create coherence? Partly through register – words have radically different meanings depending on the context (bad and sick are good examples) Cohesive ties bind what we are saying together – this often means that words can only be understood in terms of what comes before or after (for example ‘he’, ‘that one’, ‘the second’
  • As online social learning becomes more important, and we seek to build learning communities within online networks, we need to answer this research question We addressed it within Schome Schome voluntary community of educationalists, parents, teachers and students interested in exploring radically different models of education. Schome Community ’ s decision to explore the potential of virtual worlds, considering their capacity to act as spaces in which visions of future practices and pedagogies can be built and experienced, making it "possible to construct, investigate and interrogate hypothetical worlds" (Squire, 2006, p. 19).
  • Phase 3 explored the interface of Schome and school Here we have two communities connected in a network by a weak tie – the connection between the Schome project director and the class teacher Pre-existing learning communities, attempting to become one community, rather than two communities sharing the same space Due to time difference, most interaction between the two communities took place in the Schome forums
  • Our analysis focuses on one forum thread, originally to discuss events organised by the US group This covered most of the main issues we found being discussed by the two groups Size of the thread was significant We carried out thematic analysis, focusing on the key elements of community as identified by McMillan: spirit, trust, trade and art
  • First post in the thread – by the teacher of the US class - and an immediate confusion of cohesive ties. It’s not clear who the pronouns refer to – there’s a shift from first to third person and from membership to leadership Seems to reflect the problems involved in straddling the two settings: formal and informal.
  • The next day, the US teenagers were using a familiar educational register – teacher assigns work and provides a framework or template. In this case, singletons or pairs of students have evidently been asked to produce a draft proposal and to review the proposal of another group, dealing with strengths, weaknesses and suggestions. When the words ‘we’ or ‘our’ are used they clearly refer to the in-class pairing. Eight of ten students repeated this format. Proposal/evaluation, ‘we’ refers to project pairing, no other engagement What’s more they did this irrespective of what else was happening in a fast-moving discussion. Members of the Schommunity began to view this not as a difference in register but as a challenge to the ethos of their community. Unhappy with marks, assignments and final projects.
  • When 1USTeen asked about the ethos, he prompted a detailed description from one UK teenager. The thread contains many reformulations of the ethos Schome teenagers were clear it did not involve three line evaluations, final projects or graded coursework This effectively excluded all contributions to the thread from eight US students, and put contributions from the others in doubt So a lack of cohesive ties prompted a definition of the Schommunity’s practice and ethos, which separated the two groups
  • The term Trust in terms of communities encompasses authority structure and regulation – the framework within which you trust each other. Here is an initial post by 1USTeen, one of the two students in the US group who used the same register as members of the Schommunity – using similar ideas, style and terminology. Unlike his fellows he: Introduces himself Sets out his credentials Asks for members’ help and thoughts In his next posting he asks for the community to greenlight the project. So he acknowledged the authority of the Schommunity and thus set up a tension between meeting the requirements of the two communities. This led to a length debate – the Schommunity felt he should get an A* for his debating skills The US community did not treat its rules, authority and standards as negotiable No cohesive ties were created between the communities in this area
  • Start of the discussion had networked style – with offers of linkds to people and resources US community did not respond – would have meant shifting register from assessed work to discussion. However, if you did engage – as 1USTeen did – there was exchange of a wealth of intellectual ideas This was, in part, because the forum’s selective quotation feature allowed strong cohesive ties to be made. Several lines of discussion could be kept in play at once. The numbering here is used as a framework for future discussion This supported many elements of exploratory talk – challenges, counter challenge, clarifications. Information, new ideas…
  • Part of the exchange was round the art and history of Schome Park Became evident they were using different registers. Schommunity didn ’ t pick up on humour of angel/gun Moishe Liebowitz/cathedral US students didn ’ t understand why Schommunity were so against religious building Different understandings of different artefacts – particularly Hawaiian Shirt and kami gate to Japanese garden Took several weeks to identify these subtle differences in register
  • Lack of coherence was like the activity stream of a social network, where postings share only a temporal link Cohesive ties linked the postings of the two communities – even when these were widely spaced The different registers made it difficult to unite – the register of formal schooling is not designed for the negotiation of norms, authority and standards Without cohesive ties between communities, resources that were offered could not be accepted Schommunity members stopped referring to posts in a different register – though they clearly still read them Rich and fruitful discussions around the meanings of Hawaiian shirts and Japanese gardens
  • A shared register and cohesive ties between communications support the development not only of understanding but also of shared organisational structure, standards, goals, art and history. Without cohesive ties, effective communication and negotiation are limited and differences are difficult to resolve. In an online setting we have access o tools that allow the creation and utilization of cohesive ties. Tools for • numbering or bulleting separate arguments • creation of clearly delineated and referenced quotation • easily accessible permanent records of communication.
  • Who we are
  • Strength of cohesive ties

    1. 1. The strength of cohesive ties: discursive construction of an online learning community Rebecca Ferguson Julia Gillen Anna Peachey Peter Twining
    2. 2. Social aspects of learning <ul><li>Development and supply of resources </li></ul><ul><li>People who can guide, model, challenge and teach </li></ul><ul><li>Artefacts such as books and computers </li></ul><ul><li>Contexts for understanding resources </li></ul><ul><li>Frameworks for learning within which we have a role </li></ul><ul><li>Opportunities for negotiation of ideas </li></ul><ul><li>Continuous threads of knowledge </li></ul><ul><li>Affective elements such as motivation and confidence </li></ul><ul><li>Language </li></ul>
    3. 3. Online networks are made up of • actors (people & resources) • ties between them Can offer learners • easy access to large sets of people and resources • wide range of perspectives May support cooperation & collaboration (Haythornthwaite & De Laat (2010 ) Development of shared understandings, through shared discourses, can lead to learning communities Online network or learning community?
    4. 4. Learning communities <ul><li>Four qualities from McMillan (1996): </li></ul><ul><ul><li>spirit </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>trust </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>trade </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>art </li></ul></ul>
    5. 5. Coherence, register and cohesive ties Importance of language
    6. 6. Establishing coherence <ul><li>Register – the set of meanings for language that are appropriate to the event </li></ul><ul><li>Cohesive ties – grammatical devices that bind sentences, utterances and longer passages together. These include paraphrasing, repetition, references, words that are lexically related, and substitution of one word or phrase for another. </li></ul>
    7. 7. What roles do cohesive ties and register play in the construction of online learning communities? <ul><li>Schome: a new form of educational system designed to overcome the problems associated with current education systems in order to meet the needs of society and individuals in the 21st century </li></ul><ul><li>2007-8 main focus: use of Teen Second Life® to provide a 'lived experience' of radically different models of education </li></ul><ul><li>Thirteen-month project in three phases </li></ul><ul><li>Majority of participants never met in the physical world </li></ul><ul><li>Communications in virtual world, wiki, forum etc. </li></ul>
    8. 8. Phase 3: Jan-June 2008 Interface of Schome and school <ul><li>Schommunity: </li></ul><ul><li>informal </li></ul><ul><li>mostly UK </li></ul><ul><li>no assessment </li></ul><ul><li>shared history & sense of purpose </li></ul>High school Los Angeles computing class : • assessed tasks • structured communications
    9. 9. Analysis of forum thread <ul><li>Authored by 28 members of the Schome Park Programme </li></ul><ul><li>Read 12,727 times </li></ul><ul><li>Created over three weeks, </li></ul><ul><li>Included 166 separate posts </li></ul><ul><li>Total word count of 27,871 </li></ul>
    10. 10. Spirit Greetings to all . I will be posting events for various members of our team .  They would post themselves , but we are a bit short of time and attendance is not always steady. Being newbies , I hope I am doing the right thing.  Please let me know if I need revisions. We would love to have anyone participate in planning the events as well as attending, so feel free to join any group . 1USStaff
    11. 11. Reply #6, posted by 3USTeen Reply #10, posted by 4USTeen
    12. 12. Schome ethos Look, I joined in a bit later than most.  What is, in your terms, the Schome ethos, then? On the schome ethos it basically runs down into some main points One being that you are not forced to learn if you choose not to - If I don't choose to go to an event I'm not forced to, If I do then I may The main conflicting element of this for the most part is the school philosophy, school lessons nine times out of ten are very structured, you are told what to learn, when to learn it, how to learn it, attendance is compulsory, Learning is compulsory even if the subject is of no interest (school and homework make sure of it)
    13. 13. Trust
    14. 14. Trade
    15. 15. Art Oi.  I'm the angel with the black wings and the gun, if you've seen me. My building project idea is the Moishe Z. Liebowitz Memorial Cathedral. Picture by AerodragonX
    16. 16. Conclusions <ul><li>All four key elements of community negotiated in this forum thread </li></ul><ul><li>Cohesive ties produced coherence within individual posts </li></ul><ul><li>Development of community linked to sustained and coherent narrative </li></ul><ul><li>Different registers used by the two communities limited communication quality and reduced chance of unification into a single learning community </li></ul><ul><li>Discussion of small disparities often fruitful as members worked to establish coherence </li></ul>The ‘Hawaiian Shirt ’
    17. 17. The shift from networked learning communities to single learning community is difficult to negotiate. Shared register and cohesive ties: • have an important generative role in supporting and structuring the dialogue that resources learning and enables the co-construction of knowledge • support the development not only of understanding but also of shared organisational structure, standards, goals, art and history Conclusions Japanese Garden

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