Monday, April 25, 2005

Fractal Depth, Part II--If I Could Only Do It Over Again

phlezk responded to my first posting on "fractal depth" by asking about the term. To answer, I'll quote from page 117 of Hagel and Armstrong's Net Gain:

A community's "fractal depth" is the degree to which it can be segmented. The spirit of community, as reflected in the importance of the relationships between and the roles of community members, is what makes a virtual community such a powerful business model. If this spirit tends to be greater in smaller groups where it's possible for people to have more in common, then the more ways a community can be split into smaller subcommunities the better. We call this a community's "fractal depth."

Bear in mind that I'm still reading the book and still reflecting on what I've read, but my current interpretation of the significance of fractal depth is pushing me to make changes in the way I teach. First, one school of thought holds that the best way to structure groups is to assign students to groups randomly. Larry Michaelson demonstrates a way to do this when he conducts his workshops on team-based learning. I've been assigning students to online groups randomly using the Generate Groups feature of WebCT. Proponents of this approach say that diversity is a valued quality in groups and that diversity is better ensured by this approach.

Another school of thought holds that students work better in groups when they self select into groups. The idea here is that they will select friends as members of their group. Proponents of this approach recognize that friends have something in common, which is a strength.

Because of Hagel and Armstrong what I now realize is that both approaches are WRONG! The "spirit of community" will be strongest where students have a great deal in common with their group members. Too often, though, the things that friends in a class have in common are things that matter little to the efficient functioning of a team.

My thinking now is that the rapport and trust that DrTammy emphasizes can be better and more easily established by grouping students according to shared interests. Thanks, DrTammy for introducing me to Palloff and Pratt. I haven't read their book yet, but I think what I want to do would meet with their approval. Next semester I will create a survey of students' academic and personal interests and use the survey results to match students as I place them into groups. This will be lots of work in big classes, but if the fractal depth that leads to rapport and trust mean improved student learning it will be worth it.


Blogger Dr. Tammy said...

First, I want to comment that like this title you gave to this "Part II" posting. I believe many of us think if we could only do something over again...we would do it different/better. We usually do not have the opportunity for a "do over", as we said when we were kids. However, this statement presents a person who has experienced reflection, learning and growth. Although we can't experience a "do over", we can change a do it differently in the future. This is what I believe to be grand about teaching term after term.

As you know, I am a full supporter of applying constructivist theory in learning situations. I believe learners create meaningful knowledge when exposed to new concepts and theories and applying those concepts to their personal experiences. This is this beauty of using teamwork and interactive group dialogue in formal learning environments. Yes, we can "have it all" for our learners, by creating a learning community which supports constructivist learning by using teams and teamwork.

I appreciate your comittment to using teams in your large universitiy classes. I assume these larger classes are lower-division, mostly lecture style courses. I feel most professors may steer away from using teams, as it can be a challenge to lead and/or manage. However, in today's business society, teamwork is quite popular and necessary in staying competitive and creating a successful organization. As you know, all the literature says that we learn more as a collaborative team than alone. Therefore, how can we, as professors preparing learners for business opportunities, not teach learners the foundations of teamwork?

So, where do we start? I believe you are on the right track. The first step is creating the group/team. I agree when to state that learners need to know each other first. It agree that neither approach (forming teams of learners based on who are "friends" or random selection) is appropriate. Before team/group selection, I have the learners discuss their VALUES, STRENTHS and LEARNING GOALS. Each learner is on the same page and understands each other from the beginning...before the project even begins. Then, when learners are assigned to a team, no matter which team they are on, they KNOW each other's VALUES, STRENGTHS, and LEARNING GOALS. That's what is important in FORMING TEAMS!!!You see, in business organizations today, teams are very fluid...always changing...ending as quick has they begin...adding expert members...with the team leadership changing as the team deems necessary.

The next CRITICAL step is giving learners the tools to be a successful team. This means our job doesn't stop at creating the teams and assignment. As "facilitators", we also have to provide our learners with the "tool" for teambuilding. Whether this is a one-hour in-person or online crash course (or reading handout) in teambuilding, it's critical if a professor wants a successful outcome from the team.

What has worked like a charm for my own classes which involve teams/groups is having the team start with a LEARNING CONTRACT.

Before a team/group begins an actual assignment, I have the group/team discuss issues, such as (1) member roles & responsibilities - which includes establishing a leader, coordinator, time-keeper, etc. , (2) when and how often they will meet/communicate (3) a timeline plan for the project; (4) how they will handle decision-making, problem-solving, and conflict - democratic, autocratic? (5) Feedback - consequences for not following the contract. This LEARNING CONTRACT provides a sense of OWNERSHIP with and BETWEEN the learners. It also helps to establish that RAPPORT AND TRUST from the beginning.

The goal of Adult Learning is to create "self-directed" learners, right? The approach of (1) LEARNERS GETTING TO KNOW EACH OTHER (2) CREATING LEARNING CONTRACTS and (3) UNDERSTANDING BASIC TEAMBUILDING SKILLS support that ultimate goal by allowing students to feel EMPOWERED as a SELF-MANAGING SELF-DIRECTED TEAM OF LEARNERS.

(I have not learned how to embedd links yet, but here is a short aricle for further info...)

9:08 AM  
Blogger phlezk said...

Dr. Tammy, to embed links, use good ole fashioned HTML. for a link, it would go < A HREF = " " > click here < / A >, without all the spaces.

Dr. Ayers, I do believe teams work well, but as far as choosing teams, that's a difficult choice. Friends obviously comes to mind first, but some people are more likely to goof off than to get any real work done. The random groups that you made seem to work well, though there was only one assigned thing in 'real life', the rest online.

Also, thank you for linking me. I hope you enjoyed my work.

7:50 PM  

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