Thursday, January 12, 2012

Dispositions and Virtual Collaboration

Image: cooldesign /
As I prepare to meet a new group of students in two online classes I reflect on what will help them get started. I recently reread some of the thinking about habits of mind (see article by Describing 16 Habits of Mind). Costa and Kallick propose that there are discrete habits or disposition that, in concert, support thinking and problem solving.
  1. Persisting
  2. Communicating with clarity and precision
  3. Managing impulsivity
  4. Gathering data through all senses
  5. Listening with understanding and empathy
  6. Creating, imagining, innovating
  7. Thinking flexibly
  8. Responding with wonderment and awe
  9. Metacognition
  10. Taking responsible risks
  11. Striving for accuracy and precision
  12. Finding humor
  13. Questioning and problem posing
  14. Thinking interdependently
  15. Applying past knowledge to new situations
  16. Remaining open to continuous learning
With a bit of training, learners can develop these habits to improve their performance on learning tasks.

These habits of mind transfer to learning in online environments, and provide a basis for thinking about the unique challenges of learning and collaborating online. Because of the unique affordances of virtual learning spaces, it might be necessary to expand the definition of or add to the dispositions on this list.

In a recent presentation to the #Change11 course, Howard Rheingold talked about Attention as a digital literacy (see also this article in the Educause Review).  With the abundance of information and opportunities to connect on the internet, our attention is constantly being redirected.  It was refreshing to hear him address attention not as a behavior that is either present or absent, good or bad. Like Costa and Kallick, Rheingold sees Attention as a set of skills and attitudes that can taught and developed. He advocates the development of mindfullness regarding where a learner is directing her attention, and strategies for making what he calls "micro decisions" when ones attention is interrupted.

Together habits of mind and Rheingold's literacies will offer my incoming students a good start to online learning. Yet there are other dispositions that I believe are critical to success in virtual learning environments. 

As I write three come to mind:

Norming. Making explicit what the norms will be for communication, behavior, timeliness, appearance. If it is a synchronous meeting, are multiple threads managable by the participants.  Do I type while another is "talking" or wait and allow pauses between each contribution. Under what conditions do I use the mic or type my contribution. How to we notice when some people are not getting "airtime". Because we CAN work from home in our pajamas, does that mean we agree that during a Skype conference, it is ok to be dressed informally. If we represent ourselves with avatars, are there expectations about what those avatars will and will not look like.

Preparing. Some people and some environments demand a period of time to switch realities from the physical to the virtual. For instance the transition from sitting in my solitary office to being in a group of people in a Collaborate (formerly Elluminate) session or a virtual meeting in Second Life is instant. Without the time to drive to a physical meeting, adjust my clothing when I get out of my car and walk to the meeting room, I may find myself disoriented and unprepared to get right to work.

Sharing. Online learning environments are often collaborative spaces where learners may be called upon to participate in ways they are not used to. When I attend a physical conference session, I may be invited to ask questions at the end. When I attend a virtual conference, I often participate in "back chat" through the text channel while the presenter is speaking. As a presenter and learner the ability to engage in back channel discussions involves a willingness to share and a set of skills for handling multiple forms of communication.

These may be a start.  Help me tease out the habits/disposition of online learning and collaboration.  Comment below either to elaborate on these three or to expand my list.

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