Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Online Behavior in Virtual Space: An Empirical Study on Helping

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Online Behavior in Virtual Space: An Empirical Study on Helping

Article excerpt


The advent of computer supported collaborative learning (hereafter CSCL) brings more opportunities for learners to conduct peer-to-peer interactions in e-learning environment. It is therefore easier for learners to realize knowledge exchange by providing help to team members dispersed geographically. Therefore they can learn from one another in many ways, such as recognizing and resolving different viewpoints (King, 1992; Webb, Farivar, & Mastergeorge, 2002; Webb & Palincsar, 1996). Although previous studies have acknowledged that helping behavior has many potential benefits for the immediate work team and the organization (Moorman & Blakely, 1995; Organ, 1990; Podsakoff, MacKenzie, Paine, & Bachrach, 2000; Van Dyne & LePine, 1998), few studies have aimed at understanding which factors would possibly enhance helping behaviors among team members in CSCL environment, thereby the issue stands out as particularly important.

Based on the social identity theory (SIT; Tajfel, 1972; Tajfel & Turner, 1986), this study postulates social identity as a preliminary determinant in explaining one's helping behaviors in CSCL context. There are two reasons for us to draw on SIT to sustain our speculation. First, social identity is defined as a sense of belonging to a team, which is consistent with the premise of collaborative learning proposed by Rourke (2000). He argued that students need to trust each other, feel a sense of warmth and belonging before they engage in collaboration. Finally, from a psychological perspective, through social identification individuals perceive themselves as psychologically intertwined with the fate of the team (Hewstone, Rubin, & Willis, 2002; Lewicki & Bunker, 1995; Rimal & Real, 2005; Tanis & Postmes, 2005; Tanis & Postmes, 2007) and are more likely to internalize the normative behaviors as they identified with their team (Haslam, Postmes, & Ellemers, 2003; Postmes et al., 2005a; Postmes et al., 2005b). While works in SIT argue that simply categorizing individuals into a common team is enough to increase their altruism toward the team (Tajfel, 1981; Tyler, 1999), it seems reasonable that making social identity salient is also conducive to increase cooperation. Thus, in this study SIT was referred to as an insightful framework to explain learners' helping behaviors in CSCL settings.

Literature Review

Helping behaviors

Several studies have demonstrated that students derive numerous benefits from working in collaborative teams, for example, by giving and receiving help, sharing knowledge, building on each others' ideas, recognizing and resolving contradictions between their own and other students' perspectives (Webb & Palincsar, 1996). From Vygotsky's (1981) view, cognitive potentially benefit from the helping behaviors embedded in the social interactions, such as giving help and receiving help. It is not the intention of this study, however, to consider the cases of receiving help, because research has corroborated that the impact of giving help on learning performance is stronger than receiving help (King, 1992; Palincsar et al., 1993). Furthermore, our focus is on investigating how learners' helping behaviors are engendered.

Trust in team members

Empirical evidence has corroborated that trust is important for successful online interactions (Jarvenpaa & Leidner, 1999; Kanawattanachai & Yoo, 2002). Research in this field commonly regards trust as a psychological phenomenon. Psychological states are referred to as affective or cognitive process associated with situational contexts and may be influenced by the person's interaction with the situation (Lewicki & Bunker, 1995). McAllister (1995) thus defined interpersonal trust as "the extent to which a person is confident in, and willing to act on the basis of, the words, actions, and decisions of another" (McAllister, 1995, p. …

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