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Volker Wulf <[log in to unmask]>
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Volker Wulf <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 13 Feb 2007 00:31:49 -0800
text/plain (239 lines)
Dear colleagues,

we are pleased to announce the:

Special Issue: Computer Support for Learning Communities
Guest Editors: Markus Rohde, Volker Wulf, Gerry Stahl
in: Behaviour & Information Technology (BIT)
Volume 26, Number 1, Jan-Feb 2007, 94 Pages
Taylor & Francis, ISSN 0144-929X

Please find below a table of content and the introducion of the special

Yours sincerely,

Markus Rohde, Gerry Stahl and Volker Wulf

Table of Content

Supporting community-based learning: case study of a geographical
community organization designing its website
Authors: Umer Farooq;  Craig H. Ganoe;  Lu Xiao;  Cecelia B. Merkel;
Mary Beth Rosson; John M. Carroll

Fostering an informal learning community of computer technologies at
Authors: Lu Xiao; John M. Carroll

Implementing virtual collaborative inquiry practises in a
middle-school context
Authors: M. Lakkala;  L. Ilomäki; T. Palonen

Learning in asynchronous discussion groups: a multilevel approach to
study the influence of student, group and task characteristics
Authors: T. Schellens;  H. van Keer;  M. Valcke; B. de Wever

Facilitating asynchronous discussions in learning communities: the
impact of moderation strategies
Authors: Andrea Kienle; Carsten Ritterskamp

Reality is our laboratory: communities of practice in applied computer
Authors: M. Rohde;  R. Klamma;  M. Jarke; V. Wulf



This special issue emerged from two workshops on community-based
learning: one at the Sixth International Conference on the Learning
Sciences (ICLS 2004), held in Santa Monica, CA, and the other at the
International Conference on Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning
(CSCL 2005), held in Taipei, Taiwan. A call for papers was issued as a
follow-up to these stimulating workshops; 16 papers were submitted, of
which six were accepted following a rigorous double loop peer reviewing
process. This special issue is part of a wider discourse on learning
communities, specifically the conferences series on Communities and
Technologies and related publications (Huysman, Wenger, & Wulf, 2003;
Ackerman, Pipek, Wulf 2003; Huysman, & Wulf, 2004; Klamma, Rohde, &
Stahl, 2004; Stahl 2006).
Within the perspective of the history of computers, interest in computer
support for communities represents a logical progression. In the
mid-twentieth century, computers were viewed as self-contained machines;
designers concerns stressed internal efficiency in terms of logical
operations and memory allocation. It took visionaries like Bush (1945)
and Engelbart (1962) to conceptualize computers as extenders of human
intellect. Then designers had to consider human-computer interaction,
how individuals actually used computer tools. Although the visionaries
provided glimpses of inter-personal implications, most software
development focused on tools for individual users and at best took into
account human psychology. More recently, the fields of Computer
Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW), Computer Supported Collaborative
Learning (CSCL) and Communities and Technologies (C&T) have begun to
think about how small groups and communities-of-practice relate to
computational infrastructures. Consideration of small groups brought in
anthropologists and communication analysts. As we now expand to consider
computer support for communities, social theorists and business
management specialists also become involved in the multidisciplinary
effort. Consideration of the community already includes the ultimate
expansion to thinking about computers and the world. Groupware bleeds
unnoticed into global applications: The burgeoning variety of
Internet-based communication media—IM, email, wiki, blog—bring the world
together into a maze of community. At this point, computer artifacts
become pervasive infrastructure and social practices of usage far
outstrip the plans of technology designers.
Modern communities are learning communities in the sense that they
evolve through the collective building of knowledge and the shifting
participation of their members (Lave & Wenger, 1991). Conversely,
learning can be viewed in terms of a member’s increasingly skilled
participation in knowledge-based communities. Increasingly, the
interplay of community members and the development of their
participations are mediated by computers, networks, software, databases,
websites, digital media, etc. The theme of computer support for learning
communities is a timely and significant one.
The papers collected here not only recognize the irresistible potential
of computer support for learning communities, but at the same time they
delve into the ubiquitous barriers and social contradictions involved.
They recognize that the design of community-based learning is not simply
a matter of technological engineering, but integrally involves
intransigent social issues. Existing community structures and
educational institutions evolved to meet the needs of a bygone era;
adapting them to a high-tech knowledge society confronts conflicts that
would not even occur to armchair designers. To uncover and explore these
realities of developing learning communities, each paper in this special
issue (a) investigates a concrete real-world case and (b) subjects data
from that case to scientific analysis. The results may not always be
encouraging, but they are thought-provoking and important.

Learning about computing in the community. The first paper takes us out
into the community, to a geographically-based nonprofit community
organization. It asks how one can foster the kind of practical,
technical learning within such an organization that it needs to achieve
its goals today. The staffing of a nonprofit is not structured to
support learning of its own participants, although its mission in the
case study example depends upon educating the local population about
ecological issues. In order to accomplish this mission, the organization
must learn how to develop and maintain an effective website, despite
severe limitations on technical skills and financial resources. Issues
of community computing under these conditions highlight a number of
general problems and suggest some innovative responses for diversifying
participation, managing organizational knowledge and enhancing social
capital. The paper shows how carefully structuring technical training as
participatory design can help the organization to learn in a sustainable
Re-engineering a learning community at school. Another study by the same
group takes what they learned about the nonprofit website experience
back into the public school. Just as the technical support experts
learned from the community volunteers in a way that engaged and
empowered the people in the organization, so the teachers in the school
learned from their students in an interaction that benefited everyone.
Students are often more technically facile than their teachers, so why
not, argues this paper, let the students teach the teachers about
technical matters. The experience results in an authentic learning for
the students and ties their learning to tangible practical ends that
motivate engagement.
Implementing collaborative inquiry despite school. The kind of learning
that builds inquiry skills is severely constrained by the whole social
structure of conventional schooling, even in countries like Finland with
successful, progressive educational systems. The physical space and time
of the school separates students and isolates teachers. It
compartmentalizes learning into bite-size servings of unrelated
disciplines. It divides lessons from testing—contradicting the formative
role of assessment and focusing activity around a tyranny of grading.
While this case study transformed some of those conditions, it still
found that concerns about grading formed a major barrier to
collaborative inquiry. Another, related problem was continued student
orientation toward completing assigned work tasks, rather than pursuing
progressive inquiry defined as the continuing improvement of knowledge
objects (questions, ideas, explanations) within the learning community.
Computer support can only facilitate knowledge building if the social
relations and the epistemic orientation of teachers and students is
already focused on pursuing collaborative inquiry.
Influences of student, group and task characteristics. A traditional
mode of analysis within educational research is the statistical analysis
of quantified independent variables upon dependent ones, such as exam
scores and other operational indicators of learning outcomes. This paper
illustrates a multilevel analysis that can distinguish effects of
individual differences from effects of participation in small groups.
Here, the “learning community” is a freshman college course of 230
students divided randomly into groups of 10. The “computer support” is a
generic threaded discussion tool for each small group to communicate
about assigned themes. Each student is required to post at least 2
messages to each theme within a 3 week period. A sophisticated
statistical analysis is unable to find significant effects of this
exercise on the learning within the small groups, despite all the
literature that the authors cite on the benefits of CSCL. Perhaps the
point is that it takes more than a vanilla communication medium and a
minimal imposed interaction task among randomly collected students to
constitute effective computer support or a consequential learning community.
Moderation strategies for learning communities. This study explores some
techniques for building a more effective learning community through
carefully designed computer support and skillful pedagogical
facilitation. First, the small group of 12 college students was given an
intensive two-month collaborative learning assignment. Second, they were
given a sophisticated computer-based environment in which to work. While
this software was also a threaded discussion system, it included
extensive functionality to support and scaffold collaborative knowledge
building, including tools for the students or for a moderator to link,
highlight, annotate, manipulate and structure posted notes. The reported
experiment is a unique attempt to investigate the applicability of
small-group facilitation techniques to computer-supported threaded
discussion. Interestingly, the designed functionality for moderation can
be used by the students themselves as well as by an outside moderator.

Issues in building social capital in learning communities. The final
paper takes the classroom back out into the community, into the reality
outside of school walls. It tries to build an apprenticeship learning
community consisting of future and current entrepreneurs. By building
working relationships between a student community and an entrepreneurial
community, it strives to increase trust and thereby build social capital
as well as understanding. Although the students are university computer
scientist, the computer support only plays a mundane role in the
community building. The paper nicely details both the theory and
detailed practicalities of trying to match two culturally very different
communities, and evaluates the limited success. Perhaps this points to
the moral of the special issue as a whole: that the complexities of the
social issues dwarf the technical support issues, which however still
need to be respected.

In these six diverse papers we see a range of approaches to computer
support for learning communities. Their contrasting experimental
approaches and incompatible analytic methodologies illustrate major
directions within this multidisciplinary field. The pros and cons of
these alternatives are highlighted by the juxtaposition of the papers.
Each paper presents its theoretical foundations and its scientific
methodology, illustrating these with a concrete application. Despite
sophistication of theory, complexity of method and extent of research
effort, each study falls short of achieving desired learning and
community outcomes. The papers not only present important findings; they
also illustrate in their various shortcomings the abiding limitations of
our current knowledge of this important question: how to provide
adequate socio-technical support so that learning communities can
achieve their manifest potential.

Prof. Dr. Volker Wulf
Stanford University, Management Science and Engineering
Center for Work, Technology, and Organization
Terman 421, 380 Panama Way, Stanford, CA 94305-4026
Tel:. 1-650-724-0037, Email: [log in to unmask]
on leave from:
Institute for Information Systems, University of Siegen and
Fraunhofer FIT, Sankt Augustin, Germany

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