In this article, Jarvela & Hakkinen (2003) use Selman’s (1980) sociocognitive construct of “perspective-taking” to evaluate the level of asynchronous discussions.  As they do, they had some interesting things to say about human- and machine-interaction.  They write, for example, that “[s]ome of the most important processes in human communication, like creation of mutual understanding or shared values and goals, are hard to reproduce in the Web environment” (p. 77-8).

This made me ask: which kinds of learning require “the creation of mutual understanding or shared values and goals”? Do knowledge acquisition or skill development require mutual understanding or shared values?  Perhaps this quotation sheds light on the kind of knowledge they indicate: “Studies report how networked interaction in many learning projects results in superficial and experience-based discussion, but does not reach the level of theory-based reflection and argument. Yet, theory-based discussions and expert knowledge are crucial for high quality knowledge construction and learning (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1993)” (p. 78). I wondered whether this has anything to do with becoming, or whether it was just about critical thinking.

The authors discuss the challenge to continuously construct a common cognitive environment in asynchronous discussion without immediate social interaction (see p. 79).  There is a loss of the rich fidelity of face-to-face communication.  This affects our ability to solve the “mutual knowledge problem (they reference Graumann, 1995; Krauss 8c Fussell, 1990; Nystrand, 1986), which the authors state is part of effective communication. “According to the researchers in the field of sociolinguistics, the mutual knowledge problem derives from the assumption that to be understood, speakers must formulate their contributions with an awareness of their addressees’ knowledge bases. That is, they must develop some idea of what their communication partners know and do not know in order to formulate what they have to say to them. Research on collaborative learning also calls for reciprocity in social interaction (Crook, 1994)” (p. 79).

At this point they begin to focus on the issue of reciprocity, referring to their own earlier research which gave “evidence that reciprocal understanding is a typical phenomenon in technology based interactions…” (p. 79).  Then they invoke Selman (1980) and Flavell, Botkin, Fry, Wright & Jarvis (1968) to argue that “[p]erspective taking skills are critical to successful human functioning and involvement in everyday social interaction” (p. 80).  They also state that “…Web-based interaction basically involves the essential features of reciprocity…”(p. 81). As Graham and I have talked about human- and machine-interaction, it is clear that the authors here are referring to human interaction that happens to be mediated by a machine.

I would have loved to see them write a bit more about how “speakers … formulate their contributions with an awareness of their addressees’ knowledge bases” (p. 79) when they are communicating online versus face-to-face. This “mutual knowledge problem” is an interesting element of human interaction which, it seems, can be handled face-to-face and at a distance, though perhaps more effectively with co-presence.


Jarvela, S. & Hakkinen, P. (2003). The levels of web-based Discussions – using perspective-taking theory as an analysis tool.” Cognition in a digital world.


This article is the opening editorial for the journal E-learning.  I wanted to just record one insight that I found especially interesting.  The author writes that Jonathan Swift’s “writing machine” in Book 4 of Gulliver’s Travels reminds him “of various ‘teaching machines’ that promised an automation of teaching and learning. And perhaps also thinking, in the sense of metacognition models based on computer simulations…” (p. 2).

Peters writes this because he wants readers to understand that “[w]ith e-learning, then, we must be willing to recognise the deep structure of the medium…” (p. 1).  Nevertheless, E-learning, he states, was founded with “the clear policy intention of scrutinising the dominant technicist view” (p. 5).  More importantly, in our “rapidly evolving contemporary history, one might be tempted to think that the history of teaching and learning machines, indeed, the history of e-learning, was purely a technical matter, prescribed by technological change and the invention of machines. Yet this machinic history certainly gives way when the events are relocated within a wider political economy of learning and educational change and when the ‘culturalisation’ of technical knowledge raises the stakes of the argument, as an example of symbol manipulation” (p. 3).

I think these statements are interesting about the importance of the wider political and cultural factors.


Peters, M. A. (2004). E-learning machines. E-Learning, 1(1): 1-8.

Just a few words on this article by Richard Prawat (1989).  Prawat is making an argument about acccess, which he defines as “the ability to draw on or utilize one’s intellectual resources in situations where those resources are relevant” (p. 1).  He discusses three major sets of variables identified by the cognitive psychologists: knowledge base, strategy, and disposition.  These variables are affected, Prawat argues, by two factors: organization and awareness.  I want to discuss briefly his three variables, which overlap to some extent with knowing, doing, and becoming.

Knowledge base: In this category reside “several overlapping but distinguishable types of knowledge,” including formal and informal knowledge, conceptual and procedural knowledge, and concrete or representational knowledge (p. 2).  Organization affects knowledge base as teachers make linkages and connectedness between topics and ideas.  Good teaching, Prawat argues, fosters “relationship understanding” (p. 6).  Awareness likewise affects the learner’s knowledge base, and for this reason Prawat suggests techniques of verbalization; writing about content; classroom dialogue; conditionalizing knowledge; and broadening the problem-solving purview.

Strategy: Prawat defines strategy as “a broad range of routines that facilitate both knowledge acquisition and utilization” (p. 3).  This category seems to overlap with “skills” or “doing” in my mind, though I’m sure he sees distinctions.  He feels that organization affects strategy because one must negotiate a trade-off between general and specific strategies.

Dispositions: Prawat offers the definition given by Katz for dispositions: “‘habits of mind’ (Katz & Raths, 1985)” (p. 3).  This is a term we have interchanged with becoming (for lack of a better word, because becoming does seem to be more than only dispositions).  Here Prawat differentiates between actions (an aspects of strategy) and action identity (an aspect of disposition).

Prawat, R. S. (1989). Promoting access to knowledge, strategy, and disposition in students: A research synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 59(1): 1-41. doi:10.2307/1170445. http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0034-6543%28198921%2959%3A1%3C1%3APATKSA%3E2.0.CO%3B2-D&origin=crossref.

Tonight I finished an article by Jonathan Lazar & Jennifer Preece (2003), which discusses the factors which lead to and possible measures by which to gauge success in online communities.  One factor is usability — how useable the software and internet interface is.  The other factor discussed is sociability, since “[i[nformation from a disembodied source has limited value and soon lacks appeal” (p. 128).  This statement relates to ideas about human interaction which we have been discussing.

The authors refer to three general principles for software uability, proposed by Shneiderman (1998).  I found these interesting, since they are part of the strengths of machine-interaction.  They are:

  1. consistency
  2. control
  3. predictability

Web usability must also consider these factors: navigation, access, and information design (content comprehension & aesthetics).

The authors write:

Success of an online community is encouraged by a blend of welldesigned software (i.e., usability) and carefully crafted social policies (i.e., sociability. (p. 134)

In applying the idea to my research, I wondered if you could also say:

Success of a blended course is encouraged by a blend of well-designed machine interaction (i.e., usability) and carefully crafted social or human interactions (i.e., sociability)

The authors listed three sociability issues to consider, namely: registration, trust & security, and governance.

Finally, this quotation from the authors ties in to my research about human versus machine interaction in blended learning settings, and the effect those types of interaction can have on becoming:

The way that information is conveyed can affect your emotional reactions to it and the way that you subsequently behave. (p. 129)


Lazar, J. & Preece, J. (2003). Social considerations in online communities: Usability, sociability, and success factors. In Cognition in a digital world, 127-151.


This article is part of my research on dispositions.  I have already blogged on an article which goes into great depth about the nature of dispositions.  Just a few thoughts from this particular article, which argues that dispositions are best developed through enculturation.

The authors make some interesting arguments about four distinct but mutually reinforcing ways in which enculturation occurs:

  1. “Cultural exemplars are artifacts and people modeling or otherwise exemplifying cultural knowledge. (p. 79)
  2. “Direct transmission of key information is the straightforward teaching of concepts, vocabularies, and information related to cultural knowledge.”
  3. “Involvement in cultural activities entails hands-on practice using aspects of cultural knowledge.”
  4. “Involvement in cultural interactions refers to learner/learner and mentor/learner interpersonal exchange using and embodying cultural knowledge.” (p. 80)

It struck me that three of the four (1, 3, & 4) are more efficiently enacted in face-to-face settings with human interaction.  Transmission, however, may be just as easily enacted using a machine.  A great deal of enculturation, and thus dispositional learning (becoming), depends on human interaction.


Perkins, D., Jay, E. & Tishman, S. (1993). New conceptions of thinking: From ontology to education. Educational Psychologist, 28(1): 67–85. http://www.informaworld.com/index/784752837.pdf.


Arbaugh (2001) reports on research about the effect of immediacy behaviors in online learning.  She begins by defining immediacy behaviors as “communication behaviors that reduce social and psychological distance between people” (p. 43).  In a face-to-face setting, this might include nonverbal actions such as eye contact, smiling, movement around classroom, body position; and verbal acts such as including personal examples, using humor, providing and inviting feedback, and addressing and being addressed by name.  Past research has found that both verbal and nonverbal immediacy behaviors are associated with student motivation and learning.

In a virtual setting, however, nonverbal immediacy behaviors are “severely limited” (p. 44), but verbal immediacy behaviors are still possible.  Arbaugh uses Gorham’s (1988) verbal immediacy scale, which looks at two components:

  1. “classroom” demeanor: “instructor’s use of personal examples, humor, and openness toward and encouragement of student ideas and discussion” (p. 45), and
  2. “name recognition, referring to the extent to which the instructor was addressed by name by students and vice versa” (p. 45).

This list made me reflect on how I can improve my “immediacy behaviors” when teaching, whether face-to-face or online.  And I liked this argument from Arbaugh, which points to some of the transformative potential in blended and distance learning, if the pedagogy is creative and sound:

The online learning environment can in fact reduce the traditional social distance between instructor and student…because the online environment may be more dependent upon the collective effort of all class participants rather than primarily the instructor to assure a successful course…. (48)


Arbaugh, J.B. (2001). How Instructor Immediacy Behaviors Affect Student Satisfaction and Learning in Web-Based Courses. Business Communication Quarterly, 64(4): 42-54. doi:10.1177/108056990106400405. http://bcq.sagepub.com/cgi/doi/10.1177/108056990106400405.

Chapter 12

Question 2: Why do you think it is important to understand the context of the object being evaluated?

This connects to the Situational Analysis competency which I wrote about previously.  I was struck by the emphasis on flexibility, realizing just how much a good evaluator must be able to roll with the punches.  Moreover, the practices of Situational Analysis also focus on the uniqueness of every client, program, and site.  This is the context asked about in this question.  It is easy to want to apply a certain mold to all, but this shows us the importance of focusing on what makes each client unique.

I’m reading The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfeld Fisher right now.  (My old book group in Palo Alto read it, piquing my interest.)  This novel was written in the 1920s, but is very timely, dealing with roles in marriage, women working outside the home, care of children, etc.  Its timeliness is probably the reason that a new edition of it is due to come out in July.  In any case, the copy I am reading includes, before the novel starts, an article that the author wrote.  She says that often she is asked for her opinion on various issues having to do with marriage: Should women marry young or old?  Should children be cared for by their parents or by competent professionals?  Should women work outside the home?  She says that her response is: What size is a house?  People are a bit bewildered, asking: Which house?  Canfeld says: Which couple?  Which marriage?  Which woman, and which children?

I do think there are some eternal principles, and with the Gospel we have strong opinions about women’s role as nurturer of children.  However, I think the specific context matters.  I might go a little crazy if I didn’t have an intellectual outlet besides the education of my children.  Also, because I married a little later (having already established a career) and then found I was infertile (never knowing, with adoption, till the relinquishment papers are signed and you are walking away with your child, whether you really need those diapers, crib, carseat, clothes, etc etc.), I haven’t been able to bank on children.  I’ve made decisions to find happiness as a working woman, too.  These contextual factors need to be considered when one evaluates the choices my husband and I have made (that I will continue to work or attend school part-time even while our children are young).

So let me now come back to evaluation.  If context is so important in our everyday lives, it makes sense that it would be equally important in evaluation.  If it weren’t for context, there might be, say, 30 possible evaluands.  Programs would just replicate the best model out there.  In fact, in such a case, once the initial kinks were worked out, there wouldn’t be the need to evaluate because the model would be perfected.  Context creates evaluation.  With each client, site and project being unique, having different contexts, evaluation becomes necessary.


Fitzpatrick, J., Sanders, J., & Worthen, B.  (2011). Program Evaluation: Alternative Approaches and Practical Guidelines.  4th edition.  New Jersey: Pearson Education.