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Based on a message to ITFORUM by Steve Draper on 13 Dec 1997.
This is an attempt to summarize, at least for my own benefit (see 1 below), the issues around benefiting from dialogue, as illuminated for me by the ITForum discussion on LBO and lurking. (I don't have a full paper on LBO (Learning By Onlooking cf. vicarious learning cf. lurking) yet, but here are some chunks: 1, 2, 3, 4.)
I will call those who generate utterances (spoken or written) "speakers", and those who receive them "listeners".
Dialogue, whether spoken and face to face or written and mediated by e-mail, is both a social activity that needs managing and coordinating, and a personal activity with private benefits.
There are three distinct sources of learning value for participants.
(1) The value to a contributor of generating a contribution. If I don't after all e-mail this, I will still gain this value. That is why writing lecture notes is valuable, even if I were never to read them again. That is why writing a private diary can be a learning experience. This is Laurillard activity number two, and it is learning-generative by itself.
(2) The value of reading, skimming, or overhearing others' inputs — the value of non-interactive reception.
(3) The value of receiving others' responses to one's own inputs. This is powerful in improving one's current ideas.
The value of (3) is what sometimes makes contributors complain about lurkers: if lurkers replied, contributors would benefit more. It is also true that lurkers gain (2) but miss out on (1) and (3), so such complaints are not totally selfish: lurkers could gain more by contributing.
A listener on an email discussion forum will be taking both urgency and importance into account in deciding whether to contribute (reply). Because dialogue requires a timely (urgent) response, this is only possible from listeners who not only value the content but can make it urgent as well, so that they have time to read and reply within the typical time response rate of that forum. (What that time is depends upon the community, and NOT the technology. Some local email communities have a standard response time of a few minutes, others of hours, others of days. What matters is the common behaviour, which sets the common expectation, and hence the interpretation of what length of delay means a deliberate failure to reply, or the end of a topic.)
This was vividly described by Jane Moch in a message in which she distinguished three areas of interest, each of similar personal value, and all addressed to some extent through internet communications; however only the one that is also urgent for her because it is needed from hour to hour in her job gets responses because they can be immediate. In the others, she values the reading but seldom can respond in a timely way. Lurking, then, may generally be the response of listeners for whom the material is valuable but not urgent.
Contributors in general may need at least some positive reassurance about the value of what they have delivered in their presentations, but, especially over new media, this isn't automatically bound into what gets discussed. Besides the other cases (the silence of disinterest or contempt), there have been some on ITForum of the first: messages that were very highly valued by many recipients but too much so to be responded to. They seemed to deserve more knowledge and effort than anyone had available for putting into a response. If this applies to every single listener, this is unpleasant for the speaker. I now think that you have to invent new "feedback" habits there that don't come naturally, such as interrupting the conversation to ask the other end to change their camera shot: it feels unnatural to have to speak to do something you would normally do tacitly by moving your own head, but how else can they know what I need?
It's not only the lurking discussion here that has had me thinking about feedback practices in new media. I've recently been doing some tutorials over video conference links (see http://www.psy.gla.ac.uk/~steve/resources/VidConfTips.html for some elementary notes on this).
Miyake, N. (1986). Constructive interaction and the iterative process of understanding. Cognitive Science, 10(2), 151-177
Howe, C.J., Tolmie, A. & Rodgers, C. (1992) "The acquisition of conceptual knowledge in science by primary school children" Brit. j. Dev. Psy. vol.10 pp.113-130
Howe, C. J. (1991). Explanatory concepts in physics: towards a principled evaluation of teaching materials. Computers and Education, 17(1), 73-80
Howe,C. (various) A list of some of the many more publications by Howe
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