Saturday, February 16, 2008

Expectations and Desires in Learning: a scattered synchronous chat

The three major evaluative thoughts I had about Thursday’s synchronous chat are 1) I learned a lot about learning 2) I am unsure whether any learning took place, and 3) it was lots of fun. I’ll explain.

When we broke up into two groups, our (Me, Chelsey, and Jerry) goal was to have one group that was to be more controlled and one that was more free. Chelsey assumed the role of the controller of conversation, making an effort to try and keep everyone in the group focused on a particular topic. Jerry and I had the opposite approach with our group: we opened up the conversation with a question and then let things happen in the group, occasionally inserting deviating comments.

What is interesting is that the opposite effect happened than what we hypothesized: the controlled group was out of control and the uncontrolled group wanted more structure. Particularly, in my group, we started looking at the question proposed:
“In Fragments of Rationality, Lester Faigley states that " Electronic discussions both invite participation and seriously limit a teacher's ability to control the direction they take. Just as the authority of the teacher is decentered, the authority of the text is also decentered in electronic written discussions, demonstrating Lyotard's claim that truth is local and contingent" (185). In what ways does a space with decentered authority and textual meaning foster a learning environment in the classroom? What are it's advantages and it's disadvantages?”
Many insightful comments were made about this question including these comments by Amy and Jeanette:

amybethm: I think the decentered-ness may give more individuals a chance to speak, but their comments could also easily be overlooked since we could all be typing at the same time.

dr.migglerstein: Lyotard's notion of truth as local and contingent captures the essence of synchronous discussion in the classroom - those fleeting, yet focused moments of learning that are difficult to monitor

After a apt metaphor by Jeanette about how the conversation in synchronous discussions flow freely “like Albion Creek, that just overlapped it's floodplain area,” the members of the group quickly became impatient that no one was controlling the conversation:

amybethm: (I'm already wanting someone to take control)

amybethm: I'm thinking I'd be annoyed if I were a teacher who was hoping to actually get something focused accomplished.

dr.migglerstein: I agree with Amy

And then there were some attempts to get the conversation moving in a productive manner:
amybethm: I'm curious, how many of your IM like this on a reg. basis?

donnajeanevans: I wonder if having different threads occurring simultaneously
generates unusual connections--critical thinking possibilities that could contribute
to new knowledge

My overall assessment was that Amy took a leadership role in the chat because she seemed the most frustrated that the conversation was not being directed; mainly her leadership came from asking questions. My other assumption was that Kristin did not want to be the leader, even though there might have been more restraint in the group because “the teacher” was in our chat. (That also might have been the reason why Chelsey’s group felt more free to be disruptive.) Either way, my assumption that our group would be more chaotic because we were not directed ended up being false. There was a genuine desire to have a productive conversation in the chat.

So, what I learned is that desires for productivity and interpretation of productivity is large factor in the motivation for conversation in synchronous chats. How do we measure this productivity? Does the conversation have to be productive? Is it a learning environment without being a traditional productive space? In short, did we learn anything from this experience?

But overall, I had fun.

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