Mediated Conversations and the Affective Domain: Two Case Studies
Lorraine Sherry, RMC
Gary Obermeyer, Great
Abstract: Typically, online conversations within a university course or a community of professionals tend to take the form of a dialogue or discussion focusing on a given theme. The two different cases presented here are quite different, despite being goal-related. Cronjé and Rauscher explored the affective domain of e-mail messages sent during an online course, whereas Sherry and Obermeyer explored design conversations among key administrators and technology leaders within a national network of teacher educators.
In university courses, asynchronous conversations are generally
used to explore assigned readings and to reflect an understanding of the course
material. Throughout the
conversation, participants may express opinions, make connections between the
current discussion and previous discussions, relate the current topic to their
own past experiences, synthesize the responses of others, request clarification,
or post substantive questions aimed at furthering the group’s understanding
(Levine, 2002). Such conversations
take the form of a dialogue, in which
“the emphasis is on the nature of the thought processes that underlie what is
appearing in the group, the quality of the individual and collective reasoning,
and the quality of their collective attention (Isaacs, 1996:26).” Besides dialogue, there are three other
common types of conversation that occur in educational settings. These comprise dialectic conversations that focus on
framing a logical argument or a disciplined inquiry into whatever is being
examined; discussions, which are the
forums in which many participants advocate for their own individual positions,
opinions, or suppositions; and design
conversations, which are goal-related and focus on creating something new
(Jenlink & Carr, 1996).
“Something new” may be an artifact such as a jazz improvisation using
Whereas our previous research focused on dialogue and design
conversations for artifact-related activities (Sherry, Billig, & Tavalin,
2000), this paper “pushes the envelope” of these conversations as powerful tools
for transformation and change.
Specifically, design conversations focus on a change that transcends both
systemic constraints within the educational system and the constraints of a
narrow, traditional view of how change should occur (Jenlink & Carr,
1996:35). To be successful, design
conversations rely on a strong sense of team and community and the ability to
work outside of existing mindsets, beliefs, and assumptions. For this reason, it is necessary to
explore not only the physical nature of interaction, but also its affective
implications. This paper explores the use of dialogue and design conversations
within two different contexts: an online course in a Master’s Degree program at
The first case describes a movement from a contact environment to an online environment, whereas the second case describes a movement from an online environment to a contact environment. Two different theoretical underpinnings are taken. The first case is based on Krathwohl’s taxonomy of the affective domain, whereas the second focuses on Schein’s “unfreezing-changing-refreezing” cycle. The first case, therefore, investigates the emotions of the participants, whereas the second case considers the process through which they may go.
Case 1: Affective Aspects of Virtual Learning
The first case, at the
According to Smith (2002) “...affective learning or how one makes sense of their learning experience is a crucial issue in adult learning. When adults are allowed to explore the affective [dimension] of the learning experience, the opportunity for growth and development that can lead to transformative learning exists.” Huang, et al. (2002) add that a better understanding of behavioral, cognitive, and emotional aspects of presence and reactions to virtual environments will help create more effective experiences for learning. If the rationale for learning something is known, students “will often invest considerable energy in investigating the increased benefits gained from the learning experience and the consequences of not learning it (Ference & Vockell, 1994:25).”
In an attempt to engage students more fully and to increase their motivation for participating in an online module, Rauscher (course participant) and Cronjé (course creator and monitor) investigated a six-week, Internet-based module within the two-year tutored Master’s Degree program in Computer-Based Education. The major part of this two-year course is presented as a contact course, with on-line support. The module under discussion, however, is presented entirely on the Internet, to allow students to experience online learning first hand. The module took the form of a game called “Surfiver” - based upon the television series “Survivor.” The students were divided into four tribes. Each tribe had to complete tribal (which relied on the principles of cooperative learning) as well as individual virtual assignments. The mixture of cooperative learning and individual learning makes for an interesting tension. Students cooperate within their groups to complete group assignments. The assignments were designed to incorporate Johnson and Johnson’s (1991) cooperative learning qualities of a mutual goal, individual responsibility and positive interdependence. Nevertheless, each week, fellow tribe members voted off one member from each tribe. Unlike the case with the television game, the tendency was that the members that did not cooperate were evicted, rather than the strongest, and therefore the most threatening members. The evictees were placed in a fifth tribe where they were expected to function as a normal tribe, except that they could not vote or win any more. After six weeks, there were five members left, and everyone was allowed to vote for one sole “Surfiver” - the winner. The course was successful and its success was reflected in the high pass and completion rate. The students considered the game as work and treated it very seriously.
The primary means of communication during this course was asynchronous, through an e-mail list registered on Yahoo Groups. Some of the communication was transferred to and conducted through WebCT. However, some students did communicate synchronously by means of Yahoo Messenger. The e-mail messages were the primary data source for this study. Other data sources, mainly for verification purposes, included video recordings of the course debriefing, interviews with participants and the facilitator, a questionnaire, and self-reflection.
The messages were classified according to Krathwohl’s taxonomy of the affective domain, to determine the level of internalization reached by participants on the course. “Internalization refers to the process whereby a person’s affect toward an object passes from a general awareness level to a point where the affect is ‘internalized’ and consistently guides or controls the person’s behavior” (Seels & Glasgow, 1990:28). We argue that the higher the level of internalization of group values by individuals, the higher the “quality of their collective attention” (Isaacs, 1996:26). Table 1 is a combination/adaptation of the tables of Huitt (2001) and Little (1998) as adapted from Krathwohl, et al. (1956) and provides a summary of the various affective levels and their characteristic action verbs.
Table 1. Krathwohl, et al.’s Taxonomy of the Affective Domain,
Adapted from Huitt (2001) and Little (1998).
Shows awareness or attends closely or illustrates a willingness to do something.
Asks, chooses, selects, follows, holds, gives, etc.
Shows a commitment in some way by actively responding or participating.
Completes assignments, participates in discussion, volunteers something, answers questions, rewrites something, complies with something
Answers, writes, assists, discusses, conforms, complies, helps, obeys, performs, presents, reports, tells, writes, greets, etc.
Shows a value (worth) attached to something.
Shows/demonstrates an involvement or commitment to beliefs, welfare of others, social improvement, etc.
Is willing to be perceived by others for valuing something.
Believes in, has faith in, justifies, proposes, completes, describes, joins, shares, works, forms, initiates, etc.
Integrates a new value into one’s general set of values; ranking it to the values already held and building a consistent value system.
Realizes there is a balance between freedom and responsibility.
Accepts responsibility for own behavior.
Lives in harmony with abilities, beliefs, and interests.
Adheres, combines, defines, defends, classifies, relates, alters, arranges, forms judgments, identifies, orders, considers alternatives, etc.
Characterization (by value)/ Internalization
Acts consistent with new (internalized) value.
Demonstrates self-discipline, punctuality, self-reliance in working independently and cooperation in group activities
Acts, solves, verifies, influences, listens, proposes, qualifies, questions, displays, judges, illustrates mature attitude, discriminates, performs, etc.
At the receiving level, the student demonstrates a willingness to attend to a particular phenomenon or stimulus. Learning outcomes will range from a simple awareness to selective attention on the part of the learner (Schneller, 2002). At the responding level, the student demonstrates active participation by attending to a particular stimulus and reacting to it in some way (Schneller, 2002). Valuing can range in degree from the acceptance of a value to a more complex level of commitment, based upon the internalization of a person’s own set of values and expressed in behavior, which must be consistent and stable enough to make the value clearly identifiable (Schneller, 2002). We argue that valuing is essential for individual participation. At the organization level, different values are brought together, conflicts between them are resolved, and a consistent value system is built (Schneller, 2002). It is clear that individuals need to function at this level to enable the creation of shared values in a virtual community. At the characterization/internalization level, the individual has a value system that controls his or her behavior in a pervasive, consistent and predictable manner. This behavior is maintained for a sufficiently long time for him or her to have developed a characteristic life style (Schneller, 2002). Members of a virtual community will need to function at this level if the community is to be sustained. For this exercise sufficient time for a permanent life-style change cannot occur, as the course duration was less than seven weeks.
E-mail messages between the students were selected and the contents of the messages were categorized according to Table 1. A sample of fifty messages was selected out of a total of 512 by drawing every tenth e-mail message according to the date received. Rauscher was a member of the class and did the analysis of messages after the course had been completed. The selection of messages was not done mechanically, but manually. Messages that continued from a previous message, or that led into a following message, were taken as a whole. The selection, therefore, concentrated not so much on an analysis of individual words, but of “text units” as defined by Cronjé & Clarke, (1999:215): “A text unit is any paragraph or contiguous combination of paragraphs in a message that presents a discrete topic or idea”. The messages and threads were read in context of the adjoining messages. One e-mail message could contain more than one text unit. Administrative e-mail messages were ignored. The e-mail messages were classified into specific levels of Krathwohl’s taxonomy. The number/frequency of message elements at each level were counted in order to determine the predominant levels at which the students were operating. A colleague, who had not attended the course and who did not know the participants, did a similar classification, to verify the analysis. Her classification correlated exactly with that of Rauscher. As a further method of verification, the analysis was discussed and reflected upon with the participating students during the face-to-face post-course debrief. A major limitation of this study is that the “receiving” level of affective processes cannot be reported. The fact that an e-mail message was posted indicated that the student did at least “respond” to something – the student was at least aware. Figure 1 presents a summary of the results.
Figure 1. Classification of message elements according to Krathwohl et al.’s Taxonomy
The results indicate that most messages were related to the category of valuing, while organization and characterization/internalization also rated high. Receiving, in this context, could not be measured as, without a response, we are unable to determine if a message was received. Responding consisted primarily of messages in which students presented something, such as a score or their feelings. There might be a relationship between value-driven as an adult characteristic and valuing as an affective category. In terms of cooperative learning, learners would then express their sense of the value of the contribution of their peers. This is similar to Herrmann’s (1995) identification of “community-building actions”, as distinct from academic or administrative actions, as the foundation for productivity and conceptual change in electronic conversations. The total number of messages received above the level of valuing was four times more than the total number of messages received below the level of valuing.
A possible reason that the message analysis should have peaked at valuing may have been due to the nature of cooperative online learning. Valuing is an individual activity whereby value systems are built up, and assists with ensuring individual participation. Organization and internalization, on the other hand, tend to be directed more towards group formation.
Case 2: Unfreezing, Changing, and Refreezing
The second case focuses on organization and internalization, as it
discusses a combination of dialogue and design conversations among members of a
national consortium of teacher educators in the
Dialogue is being reported and seems to be emerging as a cornerstone for “organizational learning,” a field that managers and leaders throughout the world are actively pursuing in efforts to redesign their organizations. Dialogue appears to be a powerful way of harnessing the inherent self-organizing collective intelligence of groups of people and of both broadening and deepening the collective inquiry process. Dialogue shows possibilities for being an important breakthrough in the way human beings might govern themselves, whether in public or private domains. And dialogue shows promise as an innovative alternative approach to producing coordinated action among collectives. (Isaacs, 1996:21.)
The GCU-UEC currently has a Preparing Tomorrow’s Teachers to Use Technology (PT3) Catalyst Grant directed by Obermeyer and evaluated by Sherry. GCU is also a partner of the Teacher Education Network (TEN) PT3 Catalyst Grant, another national consortium that provides Virtual Campuses, a Virtual Library, portals, e-portfolio software, and other online tools to its partner organizations. One of the three goals of the GCU-UEC PT3 grant is to support the efforts of GCU institutions to employ information technology in teacher recruitment, preparation, and retention, and to meet the communication needs of their local partnerships. A related objective is to identify each GCU institution’s current and future needs as the basis for each university’s community plan, which is intended to address critical areas of urban teacher education and infuse technology into teacher preparation.
In late September 2002, the
Through its PT3 Grant, GCU created a Web site at http://www.gcu-uec.org/ for disseminating its work, as well as a password-protected Virtual Campus for archiving documents and hosting threaded online conversations with automatic e-mail notification for its members. Preparation for the Rubric Retreat began in early September. The project director established twelve group workspaces on the Virtual Campus, created an introductory message, summarized each systemic reform strategy, and invited the creator of the twelve interrelated strategies to suggest a list of indicators for each strategy, as requested by GCU-UEC members at a prior meeting in spring 2002. In mid-September, the project director sent a message to all members who were invited to the Rubric Retreat, apprising them of the task at hand and the progress to date. He posted a clickable shortcut to the group workspace and a set of directions for accessing the twelve strategies, and provided instructions for adding comments to the main thread or for replying to one of the comments by another member of the group. Finally, he requested all 62 potential participants to join the online conversation by concentrating on two or three strategies that were most relevant to their local reform efforts, by posting a brief account of their accomplishments to date, and by discussing the relative merits of the possible indicators or suggesting different indicators for each selected strategy.
The activity on each thread was summarized, using the model of “request-respond-reply” for the ensuing online conversations (Sherry, 2000). Basically, the request-respond-reply interaction follows the “demand-give-acknowledge” cycle first identified by Wells (1996) and later refined by Sherry, Billig, and Tavalin (2000). A request is a question or probe; it is strongly prospective and requires a response. A response is less prospective in that it expects but does not require a reply. A reply always occurs in response to a more prospective move, but if it is simply an acknowledgment, it expects no further response. To increase dialogue, the follow-up move to a request is extended. Extensions identified by Wells (1996) include suggestion, reformulation, informing, indirect challenge, qualification, justification, clarification, exemplification, explanation, expansion, and the like. Moreover, a reply can take the form of a response to another individual’s response to the initial request, or it can include additional probes, thereby extending the conversation.
Just prior to the GCU Rubric Retreat, there were 67 messages posted by 12 of the 62 potential participants. Authors of messages included the project director, the strategy author, a Steering Committee member, and nine other participants. This represented about one-quarter of the 45 attendees at the forthcoming face-to-face meeting. The day before the retreat began, one of the participants collected all of the unedited comments from all of the twelve threads, summarized them in a single message, and posted the summary on the Virtual Campus so that those individuals who had not participated in the online conversations could be brought up to speed on what had been discussed so far. The richest conversations took place around topics of engaging university presidents and the broader university leadership; developing and sustaining inclusive partnerships in which all stakeholders are represented; creating a “pipeline” of teacher recruitment, training, induction, retention, and professional development; and clarifying what technology infusion in teacher preparation programs means. Participants distinguished between programs that use technology to deliver a virtual curriculum and teachers who use technology to enhance teaching and learning. Once the Rubric Retreat began, the online conversations ceased. However, the natural grouping of the messages into four content areas – leadership, partnerships, urban teacher education, and preservice technology infusion – enabled the project director to group the participants into four teams with representatives from several universities, each with its own unique focus.
The face-to-face conversations at the Rubric Retreat were intended as dialogue and design conversations, but they did not start out that way. Over the course of the retreat, they slowly evolved from discussions to dialogue, and finally, to design conversations. According to Isaacs (1996), a design conversation goes beyond the suspension of personal opinions, transforming the participants and deepening their capacity to hear and inquire into perspectives vastly different from their own. The evolution of these knowledge-building conversations at the Rubric Retreat paralleled the “unfreezing-changing-refreezing” cycle described by Schein (1996):
Human change, whether at the individual or group level, was a profound psychological dynamic progress that involved painful unlearning without loss of ego identity and difficult relearning as one cognitively attempted to restructure one’s thoughts, perceptions, feelings, and attitudes. (Schein, 1996:2.)
In Schein’s view, all forms of learning and change start with some form of dissatisfaction or frustration generated by data that disconfirm our expectations or hopes. Unless sufficient psychological safety is created, the disconfirming information will be denied or in other ways defended against, and thus, no change will take place:
In order to become motivated to change, we must accept the information and connect it to something we care about. The disconfirmation must arouse something that we call “survival anxiety” or the feeling that if we do not... we will fail to meet some goals or ideals that we have set for ourselves. (Schein, 1996:3.)
Dissatisfaction and frustration were apparent in the initial conversations that took place among the four teams at the Rubric Retreat. These teams, each representing a mix of universities, each with their own beliefs, values, and assumptions, began to engage in a discussion in which each individual or group of individuals defended their own initial positions. In some cases, people actually threatened to leave the table unless their views were heard and honored. This was the beginning of the unfreezing process. In unfreezing, team members made tacit their implicit beliefs, values, and assumptions, so that these ideas could be addressed during the conversation. Once people threatened to either defend their positions or leave, survival anxiety was unleashed. Their other team members began to listen and honor these multiple perspectives, trying to associate the new “disconfirming information” (in some cases, a “reality check”) with their own prior and knowledge and their experiences within their own local context. That marked the beginning of a dialogue.
In order to maintain a dialogue, there must be some sort of culture or “container” (Isaacs, 1996) that can capture the dialogue, as well as a commonly agreed-upon vocabulary for the participants. As the discussions evolved into dialogues, each team began to form its own local subculture and develop a common vocabulary, based on the goals and ideals that the team members believed in and cherished. That marked the beginning of the change process:
Cognitive redefinition occurs when the learner has become unfrozen: i.e., motivated to change, and has, therefore, opened him or herself up to new information. (Schein, 1996:5.)
The rubric facilitator and one or more advisors worked with each of the four teams to assist them in capturing elements of their dialogue on large sheets of paper that were hung from the nearest wall. The teams then attempted to organize related concepts into semantic maps of various sorts, but it took many attempts until these maps could begin to be turned into rubrics. During each iteration, the teams tried to name each identified concept with an agreed-upon vocabulary term, and then tried to cluster the related concepts in order to streamline the map. Throughout the ensuing activities, the dialogues evolved into goal-related, design conversations in which the members of each of the four teams began to formulate a new consensus position and to design a four-stage rubric with clearly distinguishable items to be explored and measured. This took a good deal of “wordsmithing” as the teams slowly filled in the cells downward from the fourth or ideal state (i.e., “standards exceeded”) or upward and downward from the third or competent state (i.e., “standards met”). The emergence of these rubrics marked the beginning of the cognitive redefinition or refreezing process:
Once some cognitive redefinition has taken place, the new mental categories are tested with new behavior which leads to a period of trial and error and either reinforces the new categories or starts a new cycle of disconfirmation and search... Learners can attempt to learn things that will not survive because they do not fit the personality or culture of the learning system. For change to remain more stable, it must be “refrozen.” For relational refreezing to occur, it is best to train the entire group that holds the norms that support the old behavior. (Schein, 1996:7-8.)
The observation that a similar unfreezing-changing-refreezing cycle took place within each of the four teams is congruent with Schein’s view and was verified by the rubric facilitator, the project director, and the president of the GCU. The Rubric Retreat ended at this critical phase, but the project leader exhorted the group to continue the conversations online, in four threaded discussions, each targeting one of the four prototype rubrics. The eventual outcome – a set of new norms, beliefs, values, assumptions, and a consensually agreed-upon vocabulary reflecting a new “refrozen” group perspective – was facilitated when the project director posted the draft rubrics on the Virtual Campus at the beginning of October. Members of the GCU-UEC continued to streamline the rubrics after they returned to their own universities. By April 2003, the preservice technology infusion rubric had become the basis for a new portal located at http://preservicetech.edreform.net/. The description of the preservice technology infusion channels on the new portal reflects the consensus of the three organizations that had participated in the Rubric Retreat and reads as follows:
These channels are a merging of two initiatives. The International Society for Technology in Education’s “Essential Conditions for Teacher Preparation” provides the basic structure for this portal. To this structure, the Great Cities Universities - Urban Educator Corps, under its PT3 Project, is adding the dimension of digital equity, listed both as a separate channel and infused throughout.
In comparing and contrasting the two cases we notice that online dialogue and design conversations suggest some powerful and potentially radical possibilities for educators, leaders, and change agents as they consider strategies for change and transformation. In the first case study learners were assessed individually although some cooperative work was required. Valuing was therefore stronger than organization and internalization on Krathwohl’s taxonomy. In the second case the evolution of a discussion into a design conversation might correspond with a move from valuing to organization.
In both cases dissatisfaction and frustration were clearly indicated. The messages in the first case study related to valuing, were concerned mainly with frustration and dissatisfaction. In the second case also, the explication of implicit values, assumptions and beliefs formed the basis of the process of unfreezing and the ensuing survival anxiety.
The need for a facilitator who helps with the formation of a common subculture was evident in both cases. In the second case this was done by physically making semantic maps, while in the first case it involved playing a number of games based on the “Survivor” television series.
The first case study, a six-week course, involved much unfreezing and some changing, but little refreezing, as it had to do with the acquisition of academic content by individuals working collectively. There was no need to refreeze a set of collective values, hence the decline in messages on the two highest levels of Krathwohl’s taxonomy. In the second case, a mix of online and face-to-face conversations among teacher educators who spanned an entire continent, the ultimate goal was refreezing a set of new norms, beliefs, values and assumptions. The role of the project director and the advisors in facilitating the process must be acknowledged.
Whereas traditional online dialogues within university courses tend to emphasize the cognitive domain, and design conversations within design teams tend to focus primarily on an artifact to be built or transformed, the affective domain is generally neglected. An audio recording at a post-module, face-to-face meeting with course participants at the University of Pretoria revealed negative emotions such as loneliness, frustration, pressure or stress, and coldness, as well as positive emotions like a sense of accomplishment, relief, joy, and gratefulness. This is consonant with Lee’s (2000) confirmation that these emotions are experienced in a virtual environment as well. The request-respond-reply-extend messages on the GCU Virtual Campus did not exhibit much in the way of emotional responses, but the ensuing face-to-face conversations at the Rubric Retreat unveiled the underlying emotional impact of breaking out of old mindsets and rethinking valued concepts. In the end, a national network of 17 disparate educational institutions, each with its own successes, failures, contexts, and experiences, was able to not only resolve its internal conflicts but ultimately, dialogue together to build a common vision. Exploring themes that emerge from online discussions, dialogue, and design conversations may provide avenues for potential research and practical action.
Although these results cannot be generalized owing to the relatively small sample size, the diverse nature of the two case studies allow us to derive some tentative answers to the original question: “To what extent do design conversations, both online and offline, contribute to successful transformation and change?”
Firstly, case study one indicates the importance of messages or “text units” on the level of valuing, in developing a willingness to co-operate to allow for shared meaning, while the second case study we shows the usefulness of meeting online to arrive at shared meaning before a face-to-face meeting.
Secondly, dissatisfaction and frustration is likely to occur in both online team building, as shown in the first case, and in contact sessions, as shown in the second. The explication of implicit values that was required to ease dissatisfaction, may correspond with organization on Krathwohl’s taxonomy.
Thirdly, from both case studies it becomes evident that a facilitator is essential in keeping the change process on track.
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