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Role taking and knowledge building in a blended university course

Abstract

Role taking is an established approach for promoting social cognition. Playing a specific role within a group could lead students to exercise collective cognitive responsibility for collaborative knowledge building. Two studies explored the relationship of role taking to participation in a blended university course. Students participated in the same knowledge-building activity over three consecutive, five-week modules and enacted four roles designed in alignment with knowledge building pedagogy (Scardamalia and Bereiter 2010). In Study 1, 59 students were distributed into groups with two conditions: students who took a role in Module 2 and students who did not take a role, using Module 1 and 3 as pre and post tests. Results showed no differences in participation in Module 1, higher levels of writing and reading for role takers in Module 2, and this pattern was sustained in Module 3. Students with the Synthesizer role were the most active in terms of writing and the second most active for reading; students with the Social Tutor role were the most active for reading. In Study 2, 143 students were divided into groups with two conditions: students who took a role in Module 1 and students who did not take a role. Content analysis revealed that role takers tended to vary their contributions more than non-role takers by proposing more problems, synthesizing the discourse, reflecting on the process and organization of activity. They also assumed appropriate responsibilities for their role: the Skeptic prioritizes questioning of content, the Synthesizer emphasizes synthesizing of content, and the Social Tutor privileges maintaining of relationships. Implications of designing role taking to foster knowledge building in university blended courses are discussed.

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Notes

  1. For example students could receive an e-mail like this: “Dear… I propose you to take on the role of Social Tutor in your discussion group. Your task is to foster group participation, make sure that there are no discussions between only two or three people and / or someone is excluded from the activity. Let me know if you accept to take on this role.”

  2. All the segments were rated by two raters. After a period of training for the raters, we calculated inter-rater reliability only for a third of the online discourse and the inter rater reliability was calculated at sub category level (all the 17 subcategories).

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Correspondence to Donatella Cesareni.

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Donatella Cesareni co-designed the research, was involved in data collection and analysis and in this article has written the sections “Method” and “Results”.

Stefano Cacciamani in the present study worked on the quantitative analysis of data for reading and writing activities and in this article has written the sections “Theoretical framework”, “Discussion” and “Conclusion”

Nobuko Fujita contributed to the “Introduction” and edited the English language of this article to clarify all sections

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Cesareni, D., Cacciamani, S. & Fujita, N. Role taking and knowledge building in a blended university course. Intern. J. Comput.-Support. Collab. Learn 11, 9–39 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11412-015-9224-0

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Keywords

  • Computer-mediated communication
  • Cooperative/collaborative learning
  • Knowledge building
  • Pedagogical issues
  • Post-secondary education
  • Role taking
  • Teaching/learning strategies