Social Networks

Group Collaboration

“The best way out is always through”
Robert Frost (1874-1963)

The gradual rise of the empowered learner and the redefinition of institutional authority and instructor has utterly changed the learning dynamic. To say this process is irreversible presupposes that this sequence is linear rather than rhizomic. It has evolved due to multiple fissure points and related developments both in education and technology.

Trusted connections and a rhizomic path for learning: my blog, connections as a visualization. There are multiple entry and exit points, paths, processes all leading to associations which build both knowledge and trusted relationships. Retrieved December 2, 2009, from http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelgallagher/3985827194/in/set-72157622440811111

More importantly, the situation affords the educational community an opportunity to understand the nature and strength of learning associations, especially in the online environment. Learning associations are ubiquitous, amoebic entities constantly shifting in purpose and scope. They involve rapid association and dissociation of collegial parties with common interests. This also presupposes that most learning, whether online or in some sort of physical space, is a social activity.

As applied to institutions, this involves classmates all committed to common learning objectives via coursework. All individuals are committed to some degree of association to the course, their classmates or fellow faculty, their departments, or their institution. These relationships are cemented through shared action and purpose, through trust and emotive elements. So a learning network is formed through shared purpose and action.

Therefore, we have what seems counterintuitive, that individual associations born of individual needs foster a group dynamic. The engagement the individual has with information and interaction is essentially a voluntary one; individuals generally choose their own course of action and make associations between individuals and content freely. However, this logic presupposes that the individual is the focus of this online dynamic. That is to some degree false.

In this online environment, content and related activity are highly valued. “Socially constructed knowledge has been brought to centre stage, to make the departure from the actor-centered subject of philosophy of consciousness. Knowledge is now mediated socially and not isolated in the individual” (Naidoo, 267). This notion of socially constructed knowledge taking precedence over individual action or authority is indeed the core organizing principle of all communication we now label as social media. It involves the powerful notion of crowdsourcing, of using the natural energies of the group dynamic to create, moderate, and disseminate.

The intriguing aspect of this structure is that individuals are arriving at this group dynamic through no proscribed path aside from common interest. They are willingly, and presumably temporarily, associating themselves with a larger group dynamic for the purposes of knowledge and content creation. The individual stands to gain as much from the relationship as the group; an individual’s stature within their community of influence depends on this type of social currency. It is essentially a symbiotic relationship.

Symbiotic relationship of individuals to individuals or groups. Mutual interests, temporal collaboration and trust. Retrieved November 27, 2009, from http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelgallagher/3985826930/in/set-72157622440811111/.

Further, this is a muted marker indicating an acknowledgment of their knowledge deficiency, an information needs assessment. These markers represent learning opportunities. An empowered learner will seek to address these learning deficiencies often through the collaborative dynamic. This also represents an attachment point for institutions wanting to reinvigorate the scope of their purpose and influence, a point addressed further in this project.

There are further incentives for individuals to participate in online group collaborations. Group collaboration provides a steady stream of feedback for the individual on their projection of self. This projection of self can be any number of communication channels, including avatars, text for discussions boards, blog posts, a general participation in a participatory culture. Feedback received from group collaboration acts as what Boellstorf refers to as a mirroring effect- self is projected to the group and the group projects the self back to the individual (Boellstorf, 2008). Individuals can receive immediate and consistent feedback on facets of their projection, often simultaneously. This affords them the opportunity to modify this projection of self accordingly.

Klimt’s The Kiss, rudimentarily edited by Michael Gallagher. This public display of emotion, a projection of selfhood and the corresponding mirroring of group feedback. Once they become conscious of the social aspect of their affection, what will that mirroring say to them? Retrieved November 29, 2009, from http://www.flickr.com/photos/michaelgallagher/4119778849/

The trust secured from effective group collaboration establishes an interdependency of the individual towards the reality created by the group. The human individual subject is a co-producer of this group reality and resides in it; the individual is subject to the culture of the reality they helped create. This interdependency removes the traditional extrinsic grounds for undertaking particular actions, including learning projects (Strain, 269). Individualized learners join the collaborative group for extrinsic purposes, but once trust is established and efficiency is demonstrated (towards common learning objectives) then these extrinsic motivations will dissolve and the group reality will dictate participation. The focus on individualized learning will be ensconced within the group dynamic and will be subject to its wider demands. Institutional presence can be reinvigorated through a harnessing of this group dynamic.

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