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Fundamental Characteristics of Formal Virtual Learning Communities


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

Program of Research
• 3 years - 2004-2007 • Purpose: develop a model of virtual learning  communities (VLCs) that is grounded in practice

• Do elements of terrestrial communities exhibit  themselves in virtual learning communities, and do  they inform our understanding of how these  communities contribute to learning environments?  • How do contextual, pedagogical, social and cultural  issues influence participation in virtual learning  communities?  


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

Theoretical Underpinnings

VLC model (Schwier, 2001)
    Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

Theoretical Underpinning
• Social capital (SC) in virtual learning communities (VLCs) is a web of positive or negative relationships among learners • In the context of VLCs, SC serves as:
– A framework for researchers to understand the flow of information and knowledge in a community – A conduit for information and knowledge sharing among learners – An enabler of interactions that encourages peer-help and can encourage lifelong learning and socialisation – A lubricant for building trust, shared understanding and collaboration among learners based on reciprocal actions


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

Theoretical Underpinnings Typical Indicators of SC
A mutual or reciprocal action between two or more agents determined by the number of messages sent and received

People’s general perception about each other and how such perceptions relate to interaction in the community

Community type
The type of the environment, tools, goals, and tasks that define the group

Shared understanding
A mutual agreement/consensus between two or more agents about the meaning, or understanding of an object or each other

Knowledge of people, tasks, or environment


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

Theoretical Underpinnings Typical Indicators of SC
Demographic awareness
Knowledge of an individual’s demographic information (country of origin, language and location)

Professional cultural awareness
Knowledge of background training, skills and competences

Knowledge task awareness
Knowledge about someone’s capability to perform a given task

Capability awareness
Knowledge of people’s competences and skills in regards to a particular task

Norms and social protocols
The mutually agreed upon acceptable and unacceptable behaviours in a community

A particular level of probability an agent uses to assess the action of another agent


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

Research Questions - Year 1
• How do patterns of online interaction in the course inform our understanding of the catalysts of community? • What is the nature of learning that emerged in these formal learning environments • Are the proposed features of community manifest in online communication in formal virtual learning environments?


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

Research Design
• Two graduate level courses in year 1 • One course included weekly structured online discussions • One course included unstructured discussion repository for team members involved in problem-based learning course


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

Data sources
• • • • Transcripts of online discussions Transcripts of email Interviews with selected participants Online focus group

• Adding in year 2: Sense of Community Index


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

*Structural Features
– Size and complexity of network – Density and intensity of interactions

*Interactional Features
– Kinds of content exchanged in interactions – The exchange flow or the directedness of the resulting interaction
*From Fahy, Crawford, & Ally (2001)

Community Features
– Evidence of social capital (trust, awareness) – Observations about nature of learning – Evidence of elements of VLC from model


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

Data Analysis
• Coding with Atlas ti
– Grounded theory approach for novel variables – Purposeful coding for anticipated variables (reliability estimates)

• TAT & Sociograms of interactions (social networking software and analysis in year 3) • Bayesian analysis (coming in year 2)


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

Bayesian Belief Network Approach

• A BBN is a graphical model for reasoning about probabilistic relationships among two or more variables Bayes’ Theorem Likelihood

P (e / h) P ( h ) P ( h / e) = P (e)
Posterior Probability of Evidence

•Probability of an hypothesis, h, can be updated when evidence, e, has been obtained


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

Example of BBN Variables Mapping for Social Capital

Nodes represent random SC variables with multivariate states and strengths


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

BBN for Social Capital

Interaction Node set to Positive; p(i)=1.00


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

Preliminary Results
• Initial coding of approximately 80% of data from year 1 • Reliability estimates yet to be calculated • First attempts at sociogram development


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

Structural Analysis
• Size & complexity of network
– – – – 11 students, 1 instructor, 1 TA Rotating responsibility for moderation 1 discussion topic per week Moderator expected to post intro and manage discussion with additional postings – Students required to post initially, & expected to respond freely

• Level of participation
– Participation = 490 required postings/858 total postings = .57


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

Patterns of Peripheral Interaction
S/R ratio
















  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

Patterns of Peripheral Interaction: Instructor & Students


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

Patterns of Peripheral Interaction: Instructor & Students


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

Patterns of Peripheral Interaction among Students

Density = 2a/n(n-1) = .92
    Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

Nature of Learning
• Categories emerged from data • Learning is multivariate and diverse within the community - categories are tentative and share variance • Casual observation that there were significant differences between two versions of the course, and the course that emphasized online discussions and asynchronous events demonstrated qualitatively different types of learning


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

Preliminary results: Learning
• Sharing experiences the dominant expression of learning • The prominence of feedback was, to a large extent, built into the design of the discussions • Participants constantly provided feedback to each other • There is a reasonable level of shared understanding, argumentation, evaluation, elaboration, inquiry and reflection • Discussions are normally sustained for a certain period of time (no measure of persistence yet)


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

Incidence of elements & catalysts from model in transcripts
1 - Autonomy 5 - Technology 8 - Plurality 0 - Mutuality 35 - Learning 1 - Identity 6 - Historicity 2 - Future orientation 1161 - Hospitality


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

• • • • • Track individual intensity/involvement over time. What are the characteristic elements of learning in VLCs? What are effective learning strategies in VLCs? Is there any variation in the quality of discussions generated through synchronous and asynchronous interactions in VLCs? How to develop a BBN model of learning in VLCs that can be used to understand the nature of learning in VLCs?


  Richard Schwier ­ Ben Daniel ­ Heather Ross VLC Lab

Stay Tuned! CIDER Session III
What? Who? Why? When? Where? Topic: Online discussions Elizabeth Murphy, Memorial University
Come prepared with a research question re online asynchronous text-based discussion

April 8, 2005 – 11:00 a.m., MT Online at Elluminate Live!