Proceedings of CSCL '99

By International Conference on Computer Support for Collaborative Learning | Go to book overview

communication and meta-reflection as these appear through the glasses of Bateson, scaffolding should not primarily be related to the decomposition of learning content. Rather, as transcendence of learning levels appears to be the key in learning, it should be directed towards supporting the learners' navigation through meta-communicative levels. - The idea that instruction in online learning interaction should be concerned with meta-communicative structures, has earlier - on different grounds - been introduced through his concept of "weaving" by Feenberg ( 1989).


5.2 Genuine interdependence

Contrary to the traditional idea of scaffolding, the concept of genuine interdependence ( Salomon, 1995) departs from the learners' perspective. It implies supporting the zone of proximal development in the individual learner through peer interaction amongst the learners themselves. It concerns the need to share necessary information and concepts, the pooling of different complementary roles among the group, and the pooling together of minds ( Salomon, 1995). In the asynchronous distributed virtual learning environment the concept of genuine interdependence among the group must also, from the perspective of Bateson, be concerned with the meta-communicative levels of the interaction and collaboration of the group. In this case a responsibility of the students themselves, and perhaps a very important learning process to precede other types of virtual collaborative learning processes.


5.3 Awareness

Finally, the idea of awareness ( Gutwin et al., 1995) as denoting the "up-to-the-minut knowledge a student requires about other students' interactions with the shared workspace" ( Gutwin et al., 1995, pp. 1). This concept denotes four types of awareness in the learners that are used in a collaborative experience: social awareness, task awareness, concept awareness, and workspace awareness. The term "awareness" in collaborative learning connotes reflection and metaprocesses. As such, the concept seems very well suited to describe important issues, also from a Batesonian perspective. To support awareness in all of these areas is, however, a challenge that is likely to affect, not only instruction, scaffolding, and didactic elements of distributed learning processes, but also the actual design and construction of virtual environments for asynchronous distributed collaborative learning.


6. Conclusion

This paper has dealt with the learning qualities of asynchronous distributed collaborative learning processes in virtual environments. From the perspective of the learning theoretical position of Gregory Bateson the paper has attempted to establish principles describing to what extent and in what sense virtual learning processes posses learning qualities hitherto unknown from face-to-face learning situation. It seems relevant, on the basis of this initial theoretical exploration, to conclude that asynchronous learning processes - in as far as processes of reflection are viewed to be central expressions of learning - receive a special support in distributed virtual environments. In other words, through the insertion of a meta-communicative layer of context, virtual environments seem to support processes of increased reflection in learning. Furthermore, when learning processes move op the reflection ladder, we need to provide metacommunicative weaving techniques and to support meta-communicative structures in learning. The fact, that distributed collaborative learning processes unfold on the basis of a different dialogical paradigm than familiar face-to-face processes, indicate, that we meet with requests to review existing instructional techniques and to incorporate new didactic methods.


7. Future perspectives

The emphasis - from the perspective of Bateson - on reflective processes in learning should, however, not make us forget the important dimension of practice. It is beyond any doubt that virtual spaces and virtual learning environments must reinforce research which aims at finding ways to implement practice in the virtual universe of learning, perhaps through the implementation of collaborative tools (e.g. white boards; shared documents; etc.) or through electronic simulation techniques. This paper has been dealing theoretically with problems and concepts of asynchronous distributed collaborative learning. The challenge ahead is to investigate, more empirically, how - and to what extent - the principles described are manifested in practice.


Notes
1.
"Distributed CSCL": a distance learning process unfolding in virtual environments (Web or CMC-software), where the main part of the process takes place asynchronously (in relation to time and place) over the Web or CMC system
2.
Mads Hermansen has in his book "From the Horizon of Learning" introduced the interpretation of the various learning levels of Bateson as corresponding to levels and meta-levels of reflection in learning (Hermansen, 1996).
3.
Bateson uses the term "context" to describe the (not materialistic) situational conditions - that are communicatively effective in creating meaning - in which a message, an incident or a behavior occur (Bateson, 1973).

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