Re: [xmca] zopeds and virtual learning environments

From: Jim Levin (
Date: Wed Jan 03 2007 - 13:07:12 PST

I'm still around, and one of many legitimate peripheral lurkers on
XCMA. Mike is pointing to research that Bud Mehan and I conducted
with two students, Steve Black and Clark Quinn, about 26 years ago,
which is many Internet-generations ago and much removed from the 3-D
virtual world environments, but some of our results may still be
relevant. (We had to implement our own email system on campus to
conduct the research, as there was no email system in place for us to
use in 1980, as an example of how old this research is ;-)

The point being discussed about who's active is touched upon briefly
in one of the two articles we published (the Quinn, Mehan, Levin, &
Black one referenced below). Bud taught a course in spring of 1980
(a course he is still teaching, I believe), and we split the class
randomly in two groups, with one half using email only and the other
half meeting face-to-face only for the first couple weeks. We had
the instructor (Bud) rate each student on face-to-face participation,
and we tracked number of messages sent and time on the message system
(they had to log on to use the message system, and that's the only
thing they could do in those ancient days once logged on). There was
a 0.32 correlation between class participation and number of messages
and 0.47 correlation between class participation and time on the
system (which allows a measure of a sort of "lurking", i.e. reading).
We didn't report this in the article, but given these moderate
correlations, you won't be surprised to hear that we found students
who were silent in face-to-face but active in email (the point of
discussion here), but in addition, students who were active in
face-to-face but silent in email (especially in those days, there was
a considerable amount of 'computer anxiety', a term that seems to
have become extinct except among senior citizens ;-), and also
students who were active in both media and students who were silent
in both media. So email wasn't (and isn't) a panacea that makes all
students equally active. But it did have an impact on interaction

My conclusion from this research and from my experiences and research
since then is that each communication medium has its own properties,
and those properties encourage participation by some people and
discourage participation by others. My practical lesson learned is
to use multiple media in my teaching, to allow as many students to
participate as possible, and in addition multiple media encourage
each student to learn multiple coordinated ways to think about the
subject being learned, a hallmark of expertise.

More recently, several of us, including Mike, Bud, and I, have been
developing a "distributed learning" perspective on learning, which
focuses on the ways that things are distributed in a learning content
and the kinds of mediation needed to span those distributions.
Donna, who raised this issue last month, may find this perspective
helpful in thinking about collaborative learning environments - how
are things distributed in those environments? what are the mediators
of those distributions? how do those mediators interact with each
other - are they coordinated, discoordinated, uncoordinated in their
interactions? One prototheory to emerge at this early stage is that
an expert teacher/learning environment is one that provides multiple
coordinated mediation to the learners, which may just be a different
perspective on what it takes to provide an effective zone of proximal


Quinn, C. N., Mehan, H., Levin, J. A., & Black, S. D. (1983). Real
education in non-real time: The use of electronic message systems for
instruction. Instructional Science, 11, 313-327.

Black, S. D., Levin, J. A., Mehan, H., & Quinn, C. N. (1983). Real
and non-real time interaction: Unraveling multiple threads of
discourse. Discourse Processes, 6, 59-75.

At 11:57 AM -0800 1/3/07, Mike Cole wrote:
>Linda! The work of Black, Levin, & Mehan and ...... in the 1980's showed
>clear effects
>in the SHFIT IN WHO WAS ACTIVE. They did not say that everyone showed
>but that different people did.
>As Jim-- He's around.
>On 1/3/07, <> wrote:
>>Interesting post Linda:
>>At times I find myself lurking because I feel I have nothing productive to
>>add and then when I feel I do have something productive to add I will be
>>proud of a post that falls like the tree in the forest with no ears to
>>(other than the dear and bunnies : ) or worst gets pooh-poohed, yikes
>>a blow to the psyche. The times when I am met with either approval or
>>interest certainly increase my activity. Having been on this listserv off
>>and on for six or seven years I have learned that usually the ignorals of
>>posts or the criticism of the post is the vast cross-disciplinary
>>viewpoints represented. The only way to know why some people lurk and
>>never respond or why others respond haphazardly or why some people devote
>>their responses to specific threads or why some dabble in many different
>>areas is to get responses from those lurkers out there. It would also be
>>interesting to get responses from all participants as to opinions
>>pertaining to this subject.
>>A side note to Stephen Thorne:
>>Thank you so much for the reference to "Vygotsky's Educational Theory in
>>Cultural Context" book, it has been a great read!!!!!
>> Linda Polin
>> <linda.polin who-is-at pepp To: "eXtended Mind,
>>Culture, Activity" <>
>>> cc:
>> Sent by: Subject: Re: [xmca] zopeds
>>and virtual learning environments
>> xmca-bounces who-is-at webe
>> 01/03/2007 10:18
>> AM
>> Please respond to
>> "eXtended Mind,
>> Culture,
>> Activity"
>>My experience with listservs, web boards, forums, real-time chat, and
>>even VOIP, in online and hybrid courses over the past twelve years is
>>that the quiet, lurker students remain quiet lurker students, even
>>when I try to leverage them by raising the cost of their failure to
>>participate actively. Personally (no hard research), I think the
>>notion that online, asynchronous text tools make timid people bolder
>>is a myth.
>>The re-mediation I have seen is most obvious and impactful for
>>instructors who are new to the environment and are coming from
>>traditional classroom settings. They suddenly discover the tools and
>>structures that have granted them power and authority in the face-to-
>>face classroom architecture are absent online. For some, behavior
>>changes; others dismiss or abandon these formats for engagement, or
>>struggle against it. However, often, in participation structures
>>that are available and given a less well defined control and
>>authority structure, a subset of students is able and willing to step
>>up and open up the dialogue by participating and even leading
>>conversation. There is also a "mid range" group of students that does
>>increase participation over time to some extent, given a sufficient
>> I mean encouragement.
>>I am pursuing this topic, but find it barely possible to keep up with
>>the XMCA listserv, let alone craft a reasonable response to it. LOL.
>>I shall focus up more on this header.
>>My "lurker remains lurker" assertion is also largely true, in my own
>>experience, with MMO game chat, both text-based and VOIP, e.g., World
>>of Warcraft, even within guilds, which should be, by definition,
>>safe, low stakes, social spaces.
>>Linda Polin, PhD
>>Davidson Professor of Education and Technology
>>Director, EdD in Educational Technology
>>On Jan 2, 2007, at 10:33 AM, Mike Cole wrote:
>>> Odd that no one responded to your note, Donna--
>>> For a long time we have known that the time shifting using list
>> > serves in
>>> connection with courses also
>>> re-mediates the forms of participation of students with the usually
>>> more
>>> silent students becoming relatively
>>> more active and visible. But the affordances of real time, virtual
>>> environments now available in some quarters
>>> offers, as you note, a lot of new and interesting potentials for
>>> creating
>>> environments were students can be more
>>> active learners.
>>> Can you be the only one on XMCA pursuing these issues? how odd!!
>>> mike
>>> On 12/20/06, Russell, Donna L <> wrote:
>>>> Paul and All
>>>> I would like to add another issue to this discussion of zopeds and
>>>> the
>>>> impact of context on learning and development.
>>>> I am designing collaborative learning environments using immersive
>>>> technologies such as 3-D
>>>> massive multiplayer onling games (mmpogs) . My questions/comments are
>>>> concerned with how to use CHAT to study immersive technologies
>>>> such as these
>>>> 3-D virtual learning environments. I call this design and research
>>>> process v-CHAT.
>>>> Collaborative virtual learning environments have, I believe, an
>>>> incredible
>>>> potential to offset the issues of standard educational programs
>>>> that Paul
>>>> and Mike discussed. They can be designed to incorporate the joy of
>>>> learning.
>>>> They are fun, engaging and purposeful. They also are
>>>> collaborative so the
>>>> designer can consider- as in a real-world classroom- the benefits and
>>>> costs
>>>> of varied collaborations including mentoring, (guides in gaming)
>>>> tutoring,
>>>> and
>>>> group processes to facilitate movement through the Zone.
>>>> I am currently designing both programs and research including the
>>>> design
>>>> of a high school urban geoscience program, a professional development
>>>> simulation program for urban preservice teachers and a study of a
>>>> university
>>>> creative writing course taught in 3-D virtual online spaces. The
>>>> aspects
>>>> that I am studying in the nature of the simulated dialogs and
>>>> associations,
>>>> the collaborative spaces, and the design of the learning context.
>>>> Virtual Associations and Zoped
>>>> These simulated learning environments occur in highly interactive
>>>> virtual
>>>> scenarios with avatars (characters) that can dialog in real-time
>>>> including
>>>> the digital characteristics of laughter, hand gestures, and head
>>>> movements.
>>>> One researcher at the ICLS told me her students would 'talk' more
>>>> in these
>>>> spaces of their avatars could 'laugh' at jokes. Another
>>>> researcher told
>>>> me
>>>> that one of her participants in a study of a 3-D virtual learning
>>>> environment asked if her avatar (virtual character) could also
>>>> sign- the
>>>> implication was that her avatar was separate. These levels of
>>>> associations
>>>> are a very interesting aspect of these environments. McCluhan
>>>> wrote in
>>>> 1964
>>>> in Understanding of Media: The Extensions of Man that "Having
>>>> extended or
>>>> tanslated our central nervous system into the electormagnetic
>>>> technology,
>>>> it
>>>> is but a further stage to transfer our consciousness to the
>>>> computer world
>>>> as well." (pg. 60) This forum has previously discussed some of these
>>>> aspects
>>>> of extended consiousness in response to the book Natural Born
>>>> Cyborgs by
>>>> Andy Clark where he discussed the plasticity of the human brain in
>>>> its
>>>> ability to extend its awareness into virtual spaces.
>>>> Collaborations
>>>> Additionally, these learning environments allow the instructional
>>>> designer
>>>> to consider scaffolding aspects very similar to the design of a 'real
>>>> world'
>>>> collaboriative learning environment including the types and
>>>> qualities of
>>>> these virtual collaborations and the development of the learner's
>>>> responses
>>>> through mentors, tutors, virtual guides or other supportive
>>>> avators to
>>>> facilitate scaffolding.
>>>> Virtual and Real-World Problem-Solving
>>>> These virtual worlds are designed to be simulations of authentic
>>>> learning
>>>> processes such as problem-solving and case-based reasoning. For
>>>> instance,
>>>> we
>>>> are designing a fossil wall for the geoscience program that will
>> >> allow
>>>> students to 'touch' a fossil on the wall and time travel to a
>>>> paleo world
>>>> with the fossil recreated as the organism. They use information
>>>> learned
>>>> about extinction etc. from the simulations to address real-world
>>>> environmental issues such as global warming that are correlated to
>>>> these
>>>> virtual environments by their real-world classroom facilitator.
>>>> We will
>>>> convene a group of experienced inner city teachers in Kansas City to
>>>> discuss
>>>> their transformative classroom experiences and will use their
>>>> combined
>>>> expertise to design classroom scenarios that have that potential
>>>> for the
>>>> preservice teacher into our virtual spaces. The urban preservice
>>>> teachers
>>>> can 'walk into' a diverse urban classroom and be a virtual student or
>>>> teacher and respond to the decision-making processes in a real-time
>>>> simulation of these fluid environments as part of their professional
>>>> development.
>>>> So, finally, my questions are
>>>> 1. How can the characteristics of the avatars impact the immersion
>>>> of the
>>>> students in these 3-d environments be defined and assessed for their
>>>> impact
>>>> on the potential for collaboration and learning using v-CHAT? How
>>>> important
>>>> are the development of these virtual personas to the potential for
>>>> meaningful learning?
>>>> 2. How can the collaborations designed into the scenarios
>>>> consider the
>>>> salient aspects of these virtual collaborations and dialogs and
>>>> develop
>>>> productive interactions that result in meaningful learning processes
>>>> including productive scaffolding processes?
>>>> 3. What are the characteristics of the problem space, the virtual
>>>> simulation itself, that will impact the capabilities of the
>>>> students to
>>>> develop advanced problem-solving abilities? How much 'gaming' is
>>>> enough
>>>> to
>>>> engage but does not detract from the learning?
>>>> I would appreciate any advice on how to conceptualize these
>>>> parameters of
>>>> human development and learning from a CHAT perspective.
>>>> thanks
>>>> Donna
>>>> Donna L. Russell, Ph.D.
>>>> Assistant Professor
>>>> Learning Technologies
>>>> Educational Psychology
>>>> Teacher Education
>>>> Curriculum and Instructional Leadership
>>>> School of Education
>>>> University of Missouri-Kansas City
>>>> (email) <>
>>>> (website)
>>>> (member of the Virtual Instructors Pilot Research Group)
>>>> 816.235.2232
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