I?d like to return to some questions that we raised last term in the VMT meeting and also that Gerry indirectly raised with his point in January about how the project should proceed and the issues of adoption.
And I?d like to be a bit controversial and suggest that thus far we have not in the VMT project leveraged some of the greatest social potential of the Internet for education. The argument I would make here is that the main thing the Internet does for social groups and communities is that it makes space and time flexible. This flexibility of space and time allows for the re-imagination of community that is not limited by space and time and therefore permits the re-imagination of the self within newly formed community spaces that might be virtual of a hybrid of physical and virtual space (for more on this see Shumar and Renninger, 2002; Renninger and Shumar, 2002; Renninger and Shumar 2004). Further this process of construction allows individuals to craft communities to their needs and interests (See Wellman 2001). Finally I would suggest that specifically for education the Internet give students and the teachers the opportunity to escape some of the normative expectations of brick and mortar classrooms both through the flexibility of space and time but also because online communities are potentially more ?invisible? when it comes to status relations among members in the community. Or another way to say this is that they are more egalitarian.
While I would suggest these above points are important strengths of the Internet, not only have we had limited success in being able to leverage them in the project thus far, but we have run into restrictions that have made our online collaborations more difficult than the f2f collaborations conducted in Gerry?s classes. Could this be why there is limited interest in participating in chats? People are after all very intuitive about the way the Internet allows them to creatively re-imagine self and other in a whole host of settings.
Next I would like to think about small group collaboration. In his book Gerry suggests that the small group is an important site of research because much research on collaboration has focused on either the larger community or the individual who has been influenced by that community. I think this is a very important point. Further Gerry points out that history and intellectual movements have been greatly influenced by significant small groups. While I agree with this point too I would like to suggest that the importance of the small group is that it is primary (people with close relationships that are intensive (see each other regularly) and long in duration). The small groups we have created with VMT are neither intensive nor long lasting. So consequently I would argue that they are of limited significance. Group cognition is a process that takes time to unfold. This is one of the reasons why the notion of community of practice is a significant notion. Cognitive activities are whole body activities that are generated out of our practices in social context. All this to my mind implies a certain amount of durability.
So what am I suggesting? There are some constraint imposed by the nature of the kind of interaction we are encouraging through VMT. So VMT chats will never be durable groups that are intensive in interaction and long lasting. But my question is if we set a high bar for ourselves and critique what we are doing, can we better leverage the potential of the Internet and information technologies, as well as give our small groups some of the characteristics of longer lasting more durable small groups?