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The prevalence of limited forms of cooperation

In document 1.1 The Focus of this Research (Page 162-165)

5.2 Case Study One Findings

5.2.2 Making Sense of the Learning Object The prevalence of limited forms of cooperation

In the passage above, the teacher lowered her expectations of the quality of online interaction, arguing that learning is a compromise between optimal pedagogy and practical real-life conditions. Thus, while dialogue may be the ideal, it was invariably constrained by day-to-day concerns as the students focused on the practicalities of negotiating their various home, school, and work commitments. As the teacher related to the learning object, she drew upon this powerful belief about the students to make sense of the object.

In summary, this section has considered the data in relation to an internal contradiction which existed in the learning object and the influence of historical factors (previous beliefs and understandings) in shaping the way the teacher and students related to the object. The findings show that tensions existing between the two representations of the learning object disintegrated as the quasi-object (representing the co-construction of knowledge amongst the students) was subsumed by the belief that the learning object was predominantly an individual assignment displayed for assessment in order to further the individual‘s progress as a nursing student.

represent a limited form of cooperation rather than collaboration. This distinction between cooperation and collaboration is taken from Lewis (1997, p. 212, italics in original) who defines the former term as ―a supportive community of actors who agree to help one another in activities aimed at attaining the goals of each person involved‖ and the latter term as ―the establishment of a common meaning and language in the task which leads to the community setting a common goal.‖ This individual preoccupation is suggested by Student Five who quickly moved through a limited number of postings in order to complete her work. She observed:

Oh, I don‟t really read lots of people‟s posting. I just read the first one, the second one, and the third one. And for the first one, actually I found that I couldn‟t understand so I didn‟t read it, I did not spend lots of time on it. (Student 5/Account 3)

Furthermore, the comments below suggest that the students viewed the learning object as a vehicle to display their own understanding rather than a site to interact and build common understandings with peers.

Most of time I didn‟t participate fully with other people because, you know, I will like, I will say I agree with somebody and I will provide reason and I will put my stuff there and then I will never look at back, you know, go back, return to the posting again. (Student 4/Group Interview)

I think the postings are mostly about your own personal opinions of experience, so I just write my own opinions. I don‟t interact well with the other student.

(Student 3/Group Interview)

There is a strong sense here that both students perceived the learning object as a singular event with no prolonged engagement with peers. There was no intent to negotiate meaning, contest knowledge with their peers, return to the forum to re-engage with the group, or experience a transformation in their understandings from this type of interaction. The data suggest that, for the students, the objective of the activity was to complete their discussion posting as expediently as possible in order to gain marks for themselves and progress to the next assignment. The communicative intent was to exchange information once in order to complete the posting, and the objective was to cooperate with others in a limited manner to attain

individual goals rather than to interact in deeper ways to negotiate meaning with the group.

Two factors appeared to exert a powerful influence on the students‘ intentions as they engaged in the transformation of the learning object. First, the perceived relentless pace of the semester and the pressure of being fully enrolled in five concurrent nursing courses placed heavy workload demands on the students, and they frequently expressed feelings of anxiety during interviews. In response to this, the EAL students narrowed their focus onto the essential criteria of the learning object and became targeted in their approach. For example, Student Four observed ―to be frank, when I have no time, you know, I just post, I just say, „well I agree with somebody‟ and I post my stuff there‖ (Student 4/Group Interview). As noted earlier, the students did not linger in the forum, seek a dialogue with others, or dare to challenge and critique, but instead posted their text and left the forum. Clearly, there are tensions here between the constricting effects of the semester artefact which forces the participants into a pressured environment with multiple commitments to be met in a short space of time and the concept of a discussion as extending over a period of time at a more intellectually leisurely pace.

Second, student activity was significantly shaped by the teacher‘s assessment practices, particularly in relation to the marking criteria and feedback to students. As Student Five noted ―if you make more than one posting … it will be useless „cause the teacher is not going to mark it‖ (Student 5/Group Interview). As the production of monologue-type essays which displayed individual understanding was rewarded by marks, the students regularly posted one text of approximately five hundred words in which they developed general ideas identified by previous postings, included references to theoretical concepts, applied theory to practice, showed evidence of their thinking, reflected on their practice, and revealed transformations in their thought. The postings adopted a formal style as shown by the use of APA

referencing, paragraph and essay structures, complex syntax, and formal vocabulary.

In terms of connecting with peers, the EAL students acknowledged their peers at the beginning of the posting (reminiscent of pre-genre scripts which frame a more formed genre – see Swales, 1990) and identified areas of agreement before expressing their ideas and experiences; however, they avoided deeper and prolonged interaction such as an exchange of postings with other students or simply returning to the forum after they had posted to view others‘ ideas. In essence, the data suggest that the term discussion really meant a long turn for the participants – the display of their own thoughts and understandings with minimal interaction between peers.

In summary, as the EAL students transformed the learning object, their intentions towards the learning object were manifested. Pressured for time and influenced by the perception that additional interaction with other students was not rewarded by the assessment criteria, they made sense of the learning object as a form of limited cooperative behaviour.

In document 1.1 The Focus of this Research (Page 162-165)