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Computer-mediated knowledge communication. Special Issue: New Media in Education.

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Abstract

New communication technologies enable an array of new working and learning scenarios in which knowledge is being communicated. This article deals with the question to what extent these technologies can impede or facilitate knowledge communication. First, the various computer-based communication technologies will be classified. Second, effects of the medium on knowledge communication will be discussed based on results of studies of the current special priority program "Net-based Knowledge Communication in Groups". Third and last, computer-based possibilities to facilitate computer-mediated knowledge communication will be review Neue Kommunikationstechnologien ermöglichen eine Reihe neuer Arbeits- und Lernszenarien in denen Wissen kommuniziert wird. Dieser Beitrag beschäftigt sich damit, inwiefern diese Technologien Wissenskommunikation einschränken oder fördern können. Dazu werden in einem ersten Schritt die verschiedenen computerbasierten Kommunikationstechnologien untergliedert. In einem zweiten Schritt werden Wirkungen des Mediums auf die Wissenskommunikation diskutiert. Dazu werden u. a. die Ergebnisse von Studien des aktuellen Forschungsschwerpunkts "Netzbasierte Wissenskommunikation in Gruppen" berichtet. In einem dritten und letzten Schritt werden computerbasierte Möglichkeiten zusammengefasst, computervermittelte Wissenskommunikation zu förde
Institute for Empirical Pedagogy and
Pedagogical Psychology
Armin Weinberger and Heinz Mandl
Computer-mediated knowledge communication
January 2003
Weinberger, A., & Mandl, H. (2003). Computer-mediated knowledge communication
(Research report No. 155). Munich, Germany: Ludwig-Maximilians-University,
Institute for Empirical Pedagogy and Pedagogical Psychology.
Research report No. 155, January 2003
Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, Germany
Institute for Empirical Pedagogy and Pedagogical Psychology
Chair Prof. Dr. Heinz Mandl
Leopoldstraße 13, 80802 Munich
Telephone: ++49-89-2180-5146 – Fax: ++49-89-2180-5002
e-mail: mandl@edupsy.uni-muenchen.de, weinberg@edupsy.uni-muenchen.de
http://lsmandl.emp.paed.uni-muenchen.de/
Editor: PD Dr. Michael Henninger
e-mail: henninge@edupsy.uni-muenchen.de
Armin Weinberger and Heinz Mandl
Research report No. 155
January 2003
Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich
Institute for Empirical Pedagogy and Pedagogical Psychology
Chair Prof. Dr. Heinz Mandl
2 WEINBERGER AND MANDL
Abstract
New communication technologies enable an array of new working and learning
scenarios in which knowledge is being communicated. This article deals with
the question to what extent these technologies can impede or facilitate knowl-
edge communication. First, the various computer-based communication tech-
nologies will be classified. Second, effects of the medium on knowledge com-
munication will be discussed based on results of studies of the current special
priority program "Net-based Knowledge Communication in Groups". Third and
last, computer-based possibilities to facilitate computer-mediated knowledge
communication will be reviewed.
Keywords: Computer-mediated communication, knowledge communication,
facilitation, media choice, interface design, channel reduction
Zusammenfassung
Neue Kommunikationstechnologien ermöglichen eine Reihe neuer Arbeits- und
Lernszenarien in denen Wissen kommuniziert wird. Dieser Beitrag beschäftigt
sich damit, inwiefern diese Technologien Wissenskommunikation einschränken
oder fördern können. Dazu werden in einem ersten Schritt die verschiedenen
computerbasierten Kommunikationstechnologien untergliedert. In einem zwei-
ten Schritt werden Wirkungen des Mediums auf die Wissenskommunikation
diskutiert. Dazu werden u. a. die Ergebnisse von Studien des aktuellen For-
schungsschwerpunkts "Netzbasierte Wissenskommunikation in Gruppen" be-
richtet. In einem dritten und letzten Schritt werden computerbasierte Möglichkei-
ten zusammengefasst, computervermittelte Wissenskommunikation zu fördern.
Schlüsselwörter: Computervermittelte Kommunikation, Wissenskommunikati-
on, Förderung, Medienwahl, Interface-Design, Kanalreduktion
COMPUTER-MEDIATED KNOWLEDGE COMMUNICATION 3
COMPUTER-MEDIATED KNOWLEDGE COMMUNICATION
The dissemination of computer-based information and communication tech-
nologies has produced a new array of working and learning scenarios. New
communication technologies grant access to expert opinions and bridge time
and space to influence communities of practice and learning. The medium of
the computer may have beneficial or detrimental effects on how knowledge is
communicated in these scenarios. Thus, it can be argued, computer-mediated
knowledge communication may need to be facilitated in order to foster its poten-
tial and reduce its possible disadvantages. In the following chapters, various
computer-based communication media will be portrayed. Next, their potentials
and barriers for typical knowledge communication practice will be discussed on
the basis of recent pedagogical and social psychological findings. Finally, a
summary will be presented on the ways to facilitate computer-mediated knowl-
edge communication suggested by the presented studies.
Classification of computer-based media for communication
In what way is computer-mediated communication (CMC) different from face-to-
face communication (FTF)? A range of techniques has been developed on how
communication may be mediated via the computer (e.g., e-mail, chat, video
conferencing). Therefore, there are not one, but many forms of computer-based
media with distinct qualities. In this paragraph, some characteristics and types
of computer-based media will be presented which refer to the various forms.
CMC started out in the late 60ies as a decentralized form of electronic commu-
nication, which may continue even when individual relay stations (= servers)
were not functioning. The transmitted information was split up into several
packages and transported in a nonlinear, non-predetermined fashion over a
network of servers. If one server was out of order, the individual packages could
still reach their destination on alternative routes through the network. This sort
of routing reflects the difference between CMC and other forms of telecommu-
nication (e.g., radio, telephone, etc.).
The network of servers called the internet has an exponentially growing, but still
limited capacity. An important aspect of CMC is therefore its bandwidth. The
bandwidth measures how much data can be transmitted in bps (bits per sec-
ond). Bandwidth can be costly and some connections may be able to utilize only
little bandwidth, e.g. the last mile to the user. Thus, one social CMC rule is to
save bandwidth, i.e. to not send unnecessary data. Regarding bandwidth,
messages differ extensively with respect to their code. Information may be
4 WEINBERGER AND MANDL
coded as a text, as a picture or graphic, as sound or video. Text-based mes-
sages require less bandwidth than messages that are based on pictorial codes,
for instance. Therefore, computer-based media can be categorized roughly by
their bandwidth and their code. Some computer-based media can be catego-
rized as low-bandwidth and text-based (e.g., email), while others are high-
bandwidth, audio-visual media (e.g., video conferencing).
In addition to this general schema of low-bandwidth, text-based media vs. high-
bandwidth, audio-visual media, some other characteristics of computer-based
media can be further delineated. These are less definite regarding the media,
but rather describe how the individual medium is typically used (cf. Dillenbourg,
1999). The ascription of these social parameters to specific media has
emerged, because of a specific cultural practice with the distinct media. There-
fore, the extent to which these parameters apply highly depends on the social
context of CMC.
In contrast to nonelectronic mail, CMC is transmitted with a much smaller tech-
nical delay. This enables a discourse, which has been described as synchro-
nous. In synchronous communication, the discussants are supposed to partici-
pate in discourse at the same time. In contrast to FTF communication however,
any message can be recorded and stored by the author or the recipient for later
retrieval. This potential permanence of CMC enables so called asynchronous
forms of communication. The discussants are not expected to interact at the
same time, but any nontechnical delay between the individual discourse activi-
ties may take place. This means, that discussants can record the message and
respond to it at any later, convenient time. Another characteristic of CMC is that
discussants may remain anonymous or may assume different identities. This
means, for example, that communicants may use nicknames or fake addresses.
However, online discussants may also reveal some information unwillingly (e.g.,
their server address) or on purpose (e.g., by maintaining a homepage).
Low-bandwidth, text-based CMC
Email
The most disseminated and most often used form of computer-mediated com-
munication is email. Email is mostly used in an asynchronous way, that is, email
communication is expected to be delayed due to nontechnical reasons. Emails
usually provide some information about the sender like his or her email address
and could be regarded as less anonymous, even though these addresses may
not correspond to a real person. Emails can be sent to one or more addresses
at once (one-to-many communication). In text-based CMC, emails may also be
addressed to mailing lists, which forward the message to anyone who is sub-
scribed to the list. Mailing lists may be public and dedicated to one specific sub-
COMPUTER-MEDIATED KNOWLEDGE COMMUNICATION 5
ject. Therefore, anyone who addresses the mailing list may send messages to a
large number of people.
Electronic bulletin board
Similar to email, electronic bulletin boards are asynchronous, but are recorded
on a central database and not addressed to one specific person. Discussants
may use their real names or any nickname and thus, may be more or less
anonymous according to the users choosing. The text-based messages may be
represented in various ways. Some electronic bulletin boards simply list the
messages according to their entry date with the full text. In the archetypal elec-
tronic bulletin board (e.g., newsgroups), the messages are represented in dis-
cussion threads. These threads start with one particular message that is indi-
cated in a message overview by its title, the author and the date of entry. Any
response to a message is graphically connected to an initial message by a line
or ”thread” and indented. Thus, a cascading discussion thread is built in which
the discussants are supposed to continue the specific subject which was initial-
ized with the very first message. New subjects are meant to be set off with a
new message.
Chat
Chats are text-based forms of communication in which very short messages are
sent in a chat channel or chat room. The chat participants are meant to com-
municate synchronously and delays are ascribed to technical problems (lags)
and typing speed rather than discussants not focussing on the chat. The mes-
sages are listed chronologically one after the other together with the name of
the author. Usually, the authors use nicknames and thus, chat is mostly anony-
mous. Due to the delays caused by typing, several discussions may evolve that
are intermingled in one chat window. For instance, an answer to a specific
question will appear only after somebody else has sent another message in-
between. In addition to discourse, users may also indicate specific actions tex-
tually by specific commands (e.g., hug or slap others). These textually repre-
sented activities are particularly important in MUDs (Multi User Dungeons). In
MUDs users interact with each other as in chats and also with a virtual envi-
ronment, which consists of various objects and spaces. More recent MUDs
support graphical interfaces and thus, are similar to online games in which us-
ers usually control a representational computer generated figure (avatar).
6 WEINBERGER AND MANDL
High-bandwidth, audio-visual CMC
Video conferencing
Video conferences require additional computer equipment, namely video cam-
eras and microphones. Video conferences resemble spoken, synchronous FTF
discussions to a certain degree depending on the quality of sound and image
transmitted through the net. Usually the cameras portray face and upper part of
the body (talking heads video). Thus, video conferences provide prosodic, para-
and nonverbal, visual information about the discussants depending on band-
width and display detail. Thus, video conferencing is less anonymous because
of the additional information about the discussants, and because video confer-
encing is mostly conducted in known groups such as virtual seminars or spa-
tially distant teams. Video conferences utilize much more bandwidth than text-
based forms of CMC. In order to save some bandwidth, audio conferences may
be held that work on the same principle as video conferences, without the visual
connection.
Shared applications
Shared applications enable spatially distant users to operate textual or graphical
interfaces or programs together. This may include applications based on differ-
ent code, e.g., text windows which can be filled in successively, interfaces in
which graphical symbols can be arranged, or 3D spaces that can be manipu-
lated together. The term shared applications refers to a wide variety of distinct
communicative scenarios, which do not imply secluded messages, but rather a
virtual space in which two or more communicants may collaborate. Shared ap-
plications are mainly employed in organizational contexts, in which nonanony-
mous, existent spatially distant working and learning teams need to synchro-
nously operate on one problem together and are usually combined with other
communication media, e.g., video conferencing.
Potentials and barriers of computer-mediated knowledge
communication
Email, electronic bulletin boards, video conferencing, etc. are new communica-
tion media. How do these various computer-based media influence knowledge
communication? In the mid 90ies it was been debated if technology would at all
influence how knowledge is constructed and communicated. One position was
that there is no influence of any media on knowledge communication (cf. Clark,
1994). It has been argued, that the medium is a mere vehicle that does not turn
information into knowledge. Although media shows some excellent features to
guide attention, to illustrate realistically, to repeat learning steps, etc., these are
COMPUTER-MEDIATED KNOWLEDGE COMMUNICATION 7
not exclusively features of (new) media. In contrast to this position, many stud-
ies have shown, that CMC differs from FTF communication. Participants may
communicate differently, because they may be more anonymous, because they
may have more time to formulate their contributions, because they have to type
what they want to communicate, etc. Using the medium of the computer pro-
vides a scenario or a context in which knowledge can be communicated. There-
fore, the medium needs to be put into perspective to analyze and to facilitate
knowledge communication (Jonassen, Campbell, & Davidson, 1994).
In this chapter, some effects of low- and high-bandwidth CMC on communica-
tion will be introduced. Subsequently, results of a current priority program of the
DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft = German Science Foundation)
called Net-based Knowledge Communication in Groups will be presented.
This experimental research tends to focus on the various media (email, elec-
tronic bulletin boards, chats, video conferencing, and shared applications) in
different settings of knowledge communication, namely knowledge communica-
tion within communities of practice, within learning communities, and knowledge
communication between experts and laypersons.
Impact of low-bandwidth, text-based computer-based media on communication
Low-bandwidth, text-based CMC differs from FTF communication in a number
of ways. Discussants type their messages, send them off and receive texts from
their partners on screen. This scenario differs from FTF communication in some
respects. The main difference between text-based CMC and FTF communica-
tion is that some social context cues (e.g., the visual appearance of a discuss-
ant) are filtered out in text-based CMC. In text-based CMC, discussants do not
see or hear each other. Therefore, neither elegant clothes nor commanding
voice may provide any background information about the social status of the
speaker. This channel reduction of text-based CMC can lead to a range of ef-
fects on communication. CMC discussants are less likely to recognize each
others social status. Therefore, CMC may reduce inhibitions caused by status
differences to avoid conflicts (Kiesler, Siegel, & McGuire, 1984). Furthermore,
the social context cues that are filtered out in the reduced CMC channel usually
support the coordination of FTF discussants (e.g., turn taking). Due to the
resulting coordination difficulties, text-based CMC is often characterized by less
frequent turn taking and longer individual messages (Quinn, Mehan, Levin, &
Black, 1983). Therefore, text-based CMC groups take more time to come to
conclusions and have been considered as less productive than FTF groups
(Straus & McGrath, 1994). Only in idea generating tasks have text-based CMC
groups performed equally as well as FTF groups (Dubrovsky, Kiesler, & Sethna,
1991). This effect has been ascribed to the possibility to give input simultane
8 WEINBERGER AND MANDL
ously in text-based CMC, whereas members of FTF groups may mutually block
the production of ideas as each discussant is expected to wait for his or her
turn. Channel reduction has also been associated with some potentially benefi-
cial effects of text-based CMC. In comparison to FTF communication, CMC has
also been characterized by being more task related, more equal with respect to
participation, and more diversified with respect to the positions held and the
perspectives that are considered in online talk (Kiesler & Sproull, 1992; Riel,
1996; Woodruff, 1995). Therefore, text-based CMC has been considered as a
more democratic” medium, that may foster an ideal, ethical discourse in which
arguments may be exchanged equally oriented towards mutual understanding
and based on evidence (Marttunen, 1997; Miller, 1991).
These findings on channel reduction of CMC have been put into perspective by
research that considered time as an important constraint in text-based CMC. In
this respect, text-based CMC groups may perform equally well as FTF groups,
but require more time due to the typing lag (Walther, 1996). Groups that com-
municate in a computer-mediated way for longer periods of time have often de-
veloped a discourse comparable to FTF groups (Spears, Lea, & Lee, 1990;
Walther, 1992). These results indicate, that any former channel reduction re-
search is particularly valid for any anonymous ad-hoc groups that interact for
short periods of time only. Studies on groups in real world settings have shown
that users may compensate the channel reduction effects of text-based CMC.
This means, that social context cues may not be filtered out completely, but the
user may evaluate diction, provide personal background information (e.g.,
homepages), and simulate social context cues in a text-based manner (Döring,
1999). For instance, discussants may enrich text-based CMC by emoticons or
smileys (e.g., :-)), comic language (e.g., *grin*), web-specific abbreviations
(e.g., ROTFL = Roll on the floor laughing), or TYPING IN CAPITAL LETTERS,
which is considered to be screaming.
Impact of high-bandwidth, audio-visual CMC on communication
As indicated above, new forms of high-bandwidth, audio-visual CMC like virtual
3D-spaces emerge, but have not been subject to extensive research. Therefore,
the focus of this section is the video conferencing that is typically used in com-
bination with shared applications. These video conferencing scenarios have
been compared with low-bandwidth, text-based CMC against the background of
the channel reduction approach (Bruhn, 2000). In high-bandwidth, audio-visual
CMC, the channel is less reduced and more social context cues are transmitted.
In this respect, high-bandwidth CMC may be more similar to FTF communica-
tion in some aspects. But even providing that the transmission quality of sound
and video is adequate, the examined video conferencing scenarios showed
COMPUTER-MEDIATED KNOWLEDGE COMMUNICATION 9
some subtle differences that affected communication. First of all, in video con-
ferencing only talking heads are transmitted. These talking heads provide no
spatial or proximal cues and discussants may not refer to a shared physical
space by deictic gestures. Furthermore, video conferees cannot establish eye
contact, because the camera and the video image of the conversational partner
are not located at the same place. The camera is typically mounted on top of
the monitor and the video image appears on the screen. Therefore, video con-
ferees may have difficulties in referring to specific objects and conversational
partners. For instance, due to lack of eye contact and deictic gestures, video
conferees may misjudge where the focus of the conversational partner lies. As
a consequence, video conferencing shows some differences to FTF communi-
cation even under optimal technical conditions (Gräsel, Fischer, Bruhn, &
Mandl, 2001; O'Connaill & Whittaker, 1997). Some studies show, that video
conference participants achieve a comparable quality of group work, but again
have some time disadvantage against FTF groups (Anderson et al., 1997; Ol-
son, Olson, & Meader, 1997). These results suggest that successful computer-
mediated interaction is also correlated to a certain accustoming and learning
effect with the new media (Bruhn, 2000). Similar to text-based CMC users,
video conference participants may need to learn how to compensate for these
specific disadvantages of audio-visual CMC. Some speakers gesticulated more
intensely when they noticed that their addressees did not respond to their ges-
tures (Heath & Luff, 1993). In this study, however, addressees showed no reac-
tion to intensified gestures in video conferences, either. Similarly, video confer-
ence participants are expected to coordinate social interaction and the technical
environment more explicitly (e.g., It's my turn, isn't it. or Now, I am clicking on
the button in the upper left corner.).
However, the results on knowledge communication via video conferencing are
highly inconsistent in this area. This has been ascribed to different context vari-
ables (e.g., different video / shared application environments) and the explor-
ative character of some of the studies (cf. Bruhn, 2000).
In sum, high-bandwidth, audio-visual CMC may suffer from channel reduction,
but several studies show that the influence of this medium on communication is
more subtle and video conferencing more comparable to FTF communication
than to low-bandwidth, text-based CMC. Although the impact of this medium on
communication may be smaller, users also appear to be less familiar with com-
pensating channel reduction effects in video conferences.
10 WEINBERGER AND MANDL
Knowledge communication in various computer-mediated scenarios
Computer-mediated knowledge communication may have a range of back-
grounds and goals. In the following paragraphs three typical scenarios will be
discussed on the basis of recent findings on computer-mediated knowledge
communication.
½ Communities of practice. Knowledge communication is practiced in
communities in which knowledge and experience are being shared
equally to apply or to create new knowledge (Wenger, 1999).
½ Learning communities. Knowledge communication is also practiced in
learning communities in which groups of learners co-construct knowl-
edge (Bielaczyc & Collins, 1999; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1996; Winkler
& Mandl, 2002).
½ Expert-layperson communication. Another particular area of knowledge
communication is characterized by discussants of varying domains or
degrees of expertise (Jucks, 2001; Jucks, Bromme, & Runde, in press).
These fields of knowledge communication practice have been examined in vari-
ous computer-mediated scenarios.
Communities of practice build on the concept that knowledge is shared equally
amongst the members of the community. CMC may facilitate this equal ex-
change of knowledge. However, discussants of high status may verbally domi-
nate computer-mediated even more than FTF knowledge communication in cer-
tain circumstances. It has been found, that video conferencing may actually ex-
aggerate status constraints when the status hierarchy within the community is
known (France, Anderson, & Gardner, 2001). This finding may indicate that the
formerly reported higher equality of CMC may be restricted to anonymous ad
hoc groups and text-based media like email or chat. But even in some anony-
mous computer-mediated knowledge communication contexts, further barriers
to the equalizing effects of text-based CMC have been identified. Communi-
cants are often reluctant to share knowledge equally because they may profit
more by lurking in anonymous computer-mediated communities of practice
rather than sharing knowledge. This social loafing or free riding effect may be-
come more prevalent in some more anonymous, text-based communication
situations, e.g., in knowledge databases (Creß, Barquero, Buder, Schwan, &
Hesse, in press; Hesse, Cress, Barquero, & Schwan, in press). Due to the low
and heterogeneous participation in knowledge databases, organizations typi-
cally reward input of employees. The studies of Hesse and colleagues show,
however, that rewards may have no overall effect on knowledge communica-
tion. A psychological solution to low and heterogeneous participation may be,
that communicants receive a feedback about the received usefulness of their
individual contributions. Use-related rewards can be calculated, for instance, by
COMPUTER-MEDIATED KNOWLEDGE COMMUNICATION 11
how often a contribution has been received and how it has been rated by the
recipient. Rewards that depend on the usefulness of the individual input have
shown to foster the selection of qualitatively better, more useful input (Creß et
al., in press). Consequently, these studies indicate that equalizing effects of
CMC may be restricted to anonymous ad hoc groups in abstract contexts,
rather than apply to real communities of practice. Interestingly, computer-
mediated knowledge communication may not be fostered by rewards alone.
Productive and equal participation in communities of practice may rather de-
pend on the awareness of the group members about the others, about the so-
cial context, and about the usefulness of their individual contributions. This
awareness can be facilitated by feedback, which is calculated and automatically
communicated by the computer interface. This approach aims to support the
group to regulate itself (cf. Dillenbourg, 2002). An example for this sort of feed-
back for group awareness which is reified within a CMC interface is the group
awareness widget (GAW) a software tool which may implement different kinds
of group awareness by utilizing the permanence of CMC (Kreijns, Kirschner, &
Jochems, 2002). GAWs provide a representation of the recorded and thus per-
manent group processes. This may include, for instance, that GAWs graphically
indicate in what phase of knowledge communication process discussants are
and how much each of them has contributed. The rationale of this approach is
that the individual discussants identify deficient behavior with the help of the
representation of the group processes and regulate it accordingly. This would
include, for instance, that community members realize that they have communi-
cated little with reference to the average participation of the group and then try
to converge towards the group norm. However, a feedback on the participation
of community members may also affect those who participate more. These dis-
cussants may equally lower their efforts to comply with the group norm.
Learning communities differ from communities of practice in the intention to ac-
quire knowledge by collaboration and communication. The goal of learning
communities is to share knowledge within the community and thus, also foster
individual knowledge acquisition (Bielaczyc & Collins, 1999). In the learning
community scenario, communicants are supposed to analyze and discuss com-
plex problems together. Through this collaborative inquiry and reflection, learn-
ers may master the increasingly complex problems of a domain (Brown & Cam-
pione, 1994, 1996). In Knowledge Forum, formerly called CSILE (= Computer
Supported Instructional Learning Environment), these principles of a knowledge
building community are utilized and supported by a text-based, computer-
mediated learning environment (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1996). In Knowledge
Forum the learners contribute new ideas and comments in an electronic bulletin
board that preserves discussions over generations of learners. The goal of
Knowledge Forum is to utilize the permanence of electronic bulletin boards to
12 WEINBERGER AND MANDL
advance the inquiry of learning communities. Furthermore, the learners are
meant to take over the responsibility of their collaborative inquiry and to make
use of text-based, asynchronous communication to verbalize more reflective
contributions than in FTF seminars. There are some indications, however, that
computer-supported collaborative learners do not systematically exploit the po-
tential of text-based communication for more task-oriented, multi-perspective,
and reflective discourse, but rather try to come to a consensus quickly and
hardly explain or justify their claims (Fischer & Waibel, 2002; Hesse, Garsoffky,
& Hron, 1997). In order to facilitate the discourse of learning communities di-
rectly, collaborative scripts have been designed and reified using various learn-
ing environments based on electronic bulletin boards, chats, or video conferenc-
ing with a shared text editor (Pfister & Mühlpfordt, 2002; Reiserer, Ertl, & Mandl,
2002; Weinberger, Fischer, & Mandl, in press). Scripts suggest and sequence
specific activities, e.g., applying critique, asking questions, formulate justifica-
tions, etc. One central question is whether scripts should suggest content-
oriented activities, e.g., analyzing a problem with respect to specific theoretical
concepts, or rather structure interaction, e.g., prescribe an ordered sequence of
contributions, assign specific social roles, etc. Therefore, both content- and in-
teraction-oriented forms of scripts have been designed and applied to text-
based and audiovisual computer-mediated communication scenarios. In the
video conferencing setting in which scripts were reified by a shared text editor, a
content-oriented script fostered learning processes, but had no substantial im-
pact on learning outcome. An interaction-oriented script benefited both learning
processes and outcomes (Reiserer et al., 2002). Similarly, in the text-based set-
ting of an electronic bulletin board, an interaction-oriented script substantially
supported learners on processes and outcomes of learning, but a content-
oriented script only fostered learning processes and had detrimental effects on
knowledge acquisition (Weinberger et al., in press). It has been argued, that
content-oriented scripts may substitute the construction of mental models to a
certain extent, whereas interaction-oriented scripts motivate both social and
reflective cognitive processes. In this respect, interaction-oriented scripts may
render as problematic some interactions that aid learning (Reiser, 2002). These
studies indicate that scripts should challenge learners to approach problems
more reflectively. Content-oriented scripts may ease important subtasks of col-
laborative learning so that learning communities are able to apply knowledge
successfully as long as they are supported by the script, but fail to help partici-
pants interact reflectively and to actually acquire knowledge.
Expert-layperson communication in computer-mediated settings may not only
include counseling scenarios, but also knowledge communication between ex-
perts of different domains. One basic problem of expert-layperson communica-
tion is, that experts have inadequate models about what laypersons know. This
COMPUTER-MEDIATED KNOWLEDGE COMMUNICATION 13
means that experts often overestimate the prior knowledge of laypersons.
Computer-mediated expert-layperson communication may aggravate the diffi-
culty of experts to adjust to prior knowledge of laypersons due to filtered out
social context cues. Typically, additional codes are provided to improve mutual
understanding, which means that additional textual or graphical representations
of the subject matter are added to the communication interface to facilitate mu-
tual understanding and referential identity (Jucks et al., in press). The rationale
of this application of shared representations is based on physical co-presence
heuristics (Clark & Marshall, 1981). For instance, a graphic about the subject
matter that the communicants view online, may be available to both the expert
and the layperson. This shared representation may be a common reference
point for the communicants and therefore, reduce the knowledge gap between
expert and layperson and complement the expert explanations. However,
shared representations may also affect how detailed and elaborate the explana-
tions of experts are, because experts may misjudge the explanatory power of
the representation. The shared representation may create the illusion of evi-
dence, i.e. the expert overestimates the understanding, which results from the
shared representation alone. Thus, experts may tend to elaborate less when
they share a representation with the layperson and may disregard the knowl-
edge gap of laypersons when they formulate their explanations. For instance,
physicians may often overestimate how much their patients recognize in radio-
graphs and thus, do not explain or explain with more technical terms the impor-
tant aspects of the radiograph. In asynchronous CMC this illusion of evidence
may aggravate, because the laypersons cannot immediately give feedback of
incomprehension. The lack of nonverbal signals may add to this problem in
CMC scenarios (Bromme & Jucks, 2001). Results of a study on the effect of
graphical and text-based, shared representations in expert-layperson communi-
cation in contrast to expert-expert communication show that shared representa-
tions can reduce the orientation of an expert towards the layperson. Experts
address the layperson less often and use more technical terms when a repre-
sentation is shared. These results indicate, that shared representations may
strongly guide the explanations of experts, i.e. that a representation may sug-
gest experts to discuss the individual components of a subject matter succes-
sively (Jucks et al., in press). Conclusively, typical forms of support additional,
shared representations in this case may actually hamper knowledge commu-
nication. Consequently, the research group of Bromme and colleagues plan to
encourage experts to anticipate and consider the degree of the actual layper-
son's prior knowledge (Bromme, Rambow, & Nückles, 2001).
14 WEINBERGER AND MANDL
Facilitating computer-mediated knowledge communication
How can computer-mediated knowledge communication be facilitated so that
possible advantages of CMC for knowledge communication may be fostered
and possible disadvantages reduced? Apart from traditional approaches to fa-
cilitate knowledge communication (e.g., training the communicants or moderat-
ing knowledge communication processes), some new facilitation methods aim
to foster the processes of knowledge communication directly and may be
achieved with computer-based media. One important characteristic of CMC is
that it comes in a range of guises and that computer-based communication in-
terfaces may be modifiable. That is, CMC may not only pose a different setting
for communication, but also offer new ways to influence knowledge communica-
tion. In this chapter, two complementary, media-based approaches to facilitate
knowledge communication will be summarized: Computer-mediated knowledge
communication may be facilitated by choosing the most adequate medium for
the individual scenario and by adapting the media interfaces to the specific
knowledge communication purpose.
Facilitating computer-mediated knowledge communication by media choice
The adequate media choice may appear to be a simple and obvious approach
to facilitate knowledge communication, because any media may come with po-
tentials and disadvantages related to different scenarios of knowledge commu-
nication. This task-media-fit-approach involves the notion that low-bandwidth,
text-based CMC may be more appropriate for some tasks than high-bandwidth,
audio-visual CMC and FTF communication. The individual capacity to transmit
more or less information through these media is matched with a number of
tasks that require different degrees of information (McGrath & Hollingshead,
1993, 1994). An idea-generating task, for instance, does not require as much
interaction between the discussants as the negotiation of conflicts. Therefore,
generating tasks are appropriate for low-bandwidth, text-based CMC whereas
other tasks require more bandwidth as in video conferencing or FTF communi-
cation. The task-media-fit-approach therefore suggests that media choice
should be rational to facilitate knowledge communication. A rational media
choice means, that specific characteristics ascribed to the individual media
make the media more or less appropriate for specific communicative scenarios.
For instance, email has been judged as appropriate for informing, but in order
that participants get to know each other, FTF communication is usually consid-
ered more appropriate (Rice, 1993). This includes the notion that the preferred
medium is not necessarily the most costly medium. Anderson and colleagues
describe, for instance, that video conferencing may be considered less useful in
knowledge communication compared with noninteractive video resources
COMPUTER-MEDIATED KNOWLEDGE COMMUNICATION 15
(Anderson et al., 2000). Actual media choice in real world settings can be ex-
plained by several approaches, however, and may not always be based on an
ideal fit between medium and knowledge communication scenario (cf. Döring,
1997). Media may be chosen normatively based on what users know and ap-
preciate best. It has been shown, for instance, that the appreciation of email in
organizational contexts is related to the experience of the individual in handling
email and also to the estimation of email by colleagues and superiors (Schmitz
& Fulk, 1991). Media choice may also be interactive and depend on how many
and to what extent possible communicants use a specific medium. In this re-
spect, a critical mass of communicants enhances the use of a specific medium
(Markus, 1987). Some studies show that communities can be supported best by
using modest, common, and easily accessible equipment rather than high-
technology, highly specialized communication tools (Carletta, Anderson, &
McEwan, 2000). Therefore, computer-based approaches to facilitate knowledge
communication should consider the actual context of the individual user.
Facilitating computer-mediated knowledge communication by interface design
Interface design is another method of confronting the problems of computer-
mediated knowledge communication. This approach argues that no medium
was genuinely designed for knowledge communication and thus, the design of
the medium interface could be improved for specific knowledge communication
scenarios (Mandl & Fischer, in press; Roschelle & Pea, 1999). Therefore, media
can be adapted to foster knowledge communication by technically implementing
support into the CMC environment. The development and experimental re-
search of these computer-based tools to support knowledge communication has
many practical implications. The rationale of knowledge communication tools is
that a specific interface design may substitute extensive training and feedback
by co-present moderators and warrant a standardized quality of knowledge
communication. The tool may afford and constrain specific activities of knowl-
edge communication (Greeno, 1998). Several forms of how media may be de-
signed to foster learning have been suggested (Mandl & Fischer, in press; Ro-
schelle & Pea, 1999):
Shared active representation tools support knowledge communication by pro-
viding discussants with shared representations in different codes (text, graphic,
etc.) of the subject matter. In CMC, shared applications typically utilize shared
representation tools. With respect to knowledge communication, shared active
representation tools can be distinguished by their interactivity. The least interac-
tive form is a representation of the subject matter accessible by all discussants,
but which the individual user cannot modify. These representations may guide
knowledge communication by emphasizing specific aspects of a subject matter
16 WEINBERGER AND MANDL
(Suthers & Hundhausen, 2001). The salience of specific aspects in representa-
tions would increase the chance that these aspects would enter the discourse.
Representations may also facilitate knowledge communication by providing a
common ground of the discussants in accordance with the physical co-presence
heuristics (Clark & Marshall, 1981). Shared representations may provide infor-
mation that does not need to be interpreted, but can be used by the discussants
immediately (Mandl & Fischer, in press). In this respect, shared representations
could reduce ambiguous communication. For instance, graphical representa-
tions may define subjects in a more definite and more complete way than pos-
sible in pure discourse (Schnotz, Boeckheler, & Grzondziel, 1997). However, as
Jucks et al. show, graphical representations could also increase the illusion of
evidence in expert-layperson-communication. These inconsistency may be ex-
plained by the fact, that the beneficial effects of shared representations are
highly dependent on the degree of prior knowledge of all communicants
(Fischer, 1998). Shared active representation tools may also model group proc-
esses or the subject matter in a more interactive way. For instance, mapping
techniques are based on the idea to represent individual concepts on single
cards and to graphically link these concepts with specified relations in a map.
Online mapping techniques have been successfully applied in computer-
mediated cooperative learning scenarios (e.g., Fischer, 1998). The rationale of
these more interactive forms of shared active representation tools is that users
may record important processes and results of knowledge communication. This
permanent record may in turn facilitate metacognition, e.g., monitoring what
aspects of the subject matter have been discussed already. Therefore, discuss-
ants may less likely fall victim to an illusion of evidence when they need to con-
struct a shared representation together.
Community building tools aim to support the social coherence of communities
by providing defined virtual spaces as MUDs do, for instance (Fischer & Mandl,
in press; Mandl & Fischer, in press). Community building tools, such as Knowl-
edge Forum, are based on the principle that the individual members of the
community contribute to a specific subject matter on which other members of
the community may further build. In this way, community building tools should
help to allocate knowledge resources, to build groups of interest and to continu-
ously generate better answers to complex problems. One aspect of community
building tools is therefore knowledge mining. This means that community
building tools may help users to discover the knowledge of the entire community
on a particular subject matter and recommend specific resources and experts
within the community (Roschelle & Pea, 1999). The separation of the CMC en-
vironment into specific, purpose-built virtual spaces, which may be accessible to
community members only, aims to improve the knowledge search within a
community (Weinberger & Lerche, 2001). For instance, online-cafés” are sup-
COMPUTER-MEDIATED KNOWLEDGE COMMUNICATION 17
posed to provide space for informal conversations, virtual information center
inform new community members how to use the environment, virtual libraries
represent the collected archive of the community, etc. The communication of
knowledge within these computer-mediated knowledge communication envi-
ronments is often supported by several types of media (e.g., electronic bulletin
boards and chats). The community strongly builds on the commitment of its
members. Therefore, reward systems (e.g., electric currencies) are often ap-
plied with varying success (cf. Creß et al., in press). Whereas more informal
communities are motivationally self-sustained on the grounds of the shared in-
terest of the community members (e.g., self-help groups), little is known about
how commitment in more formal communities initiated by third persons such as
superiors, teachers, or companies can be facilitated. There are indications that
awareness about the usefulness of one's own contributions may improve the
effects of traditional incentive structures (Creß et al., in press).
Socio-cognitive structuring tools aim to structure discourse according to suc-
cessful patterns of knowledge communication. Successful interaction patterns
usually involve metacognitive processes such as mutual regulation and reflec-
tion on the subject matter. These structuring tools have also been referred to as
scripts, which sequence and specify individual interactions (O'Donnell, 1999).
Scripts are usually taught prior to actual knowledge communication and moder-
ated. In case of computer-mediated knowledge communication, there is the
possibility to adapt the interface to utilize scripted cooperation (Baker & Lund,
1997; Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1996). The individual activities can be specified
with prompts or note starters, e.g., My theory is ... or I need to understand ...,
that discussants are supposed to complete when starting to write a message in
text-based CMC (Nussbaum, Hartley, Sinatra, Reynolds, & Bendixen, 2002;
Weinberger et al., in press). These prompts are implemented into the text win-
dow that discussants use to formulate messages in online debate. The studies
show, that these scripts can improve knowledge communication and encourage
discussants to disagree and explore alternative viewpoints in comparison to
open discourse in text-based CMC. In this respect, text-based CMC may be
appropriate for modifying discourse directly by sequencing and timing content or
interaction or by assigning specific activities or roles to individual group mem-
bers. However, scripts may also be detrimental to knowledge communication
when the discussants are more experienced or when the script is too detailed
(Baker & Lund, 1997; Cohen, 1994; Dillenbourg, 2002). Socio-cognitive struc-
turing tools may disturb natural interactions. Socio-cognitive structuring tools
aim to achieve specific interactions, but an a priori structure of discourse cannot
foresee any ambiguity or necessary side tracks in knowledge communication.
Especially advanced knowledge communicants may apply individual successful
knowledge communication strategies that the structuring tool may not recog-
18 WEINBERGER AND MANDL
nize. In particular a very detailed prescription of interactions may hamper
knowledge communication on complex subjects. Complex subjects may afford a
big number of various interactions and allow many solution paths. A detailed
structure may reduce the required multiple perspectives on complex subjects.
Therefore, socio-cognitive structuring tools may need to be designed for specific
contexts and with sufficient degrees of freedom for the discussants. Computer-
based media may pose an ideal test bed for adapting structuring tools to vari-
ous contexts and enable rather than constrain interactions.
Conclusion and outlook
In sum, computer-based facilitation of knowledge communication may not have
found the silver bullet to miraculously turn the often deficient scenarios into
ideal forms of knowledge communication, but may be a practical and thus, in-
triguing approach for real world settings. Of course, the efficiency of knowledge
communication may be a question of several context variables: Ideally, the sub-
ject matter is complex and interesting, participation is voluntarily and equally,
the participants are experienced in communicating knowledge, the communica-
tion tools meet the requirements etc. However, these contextual conditions are
rarely met and knowledge communication rarely shows ideal characteristics:
Ideally, knowledge communicants participate highly and equally in coherent and
reflective discourse. The idea to foster these discourse processes directly has
challenged research and fields of practice. Instead of training the discussants
prior to knowledge communication which is seldom done computer-based
tools may be selected and designed to facilitate interactions. Some studies
have reported promising results on how to facilitate computer-mediated knowl-
edge communication. Future studies may apply these methods in real world
settings to optimize actual knowledge communication scenarios.
COMPUTER-MEDIATED KNOWLEDGE COMMUNICATION 19
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... Ermöglicht wird diese Perspektive vor allem durch Technologien, die durch ihre Visualisierungs-und Interaktionsmöglichkeiten dem sozialen Charakter von Face-to-Face-Situationen auf virtueller Ebene immer näher kommen (vgl. Weinberger & Mandl, 2003). ...
... Die Erfahrung mit der Technologie wird im Technology-Acceptance-Model von Venkatesh und Davis (2000) vor allem im Zusammenhang mit subjektiver Norm und wahrgenommenem Nutzen als bedeutsam für die Akzeptanz betrachtet (Venkatesh & Bala, 2008 (Weinberger & Mandl, 2003;Sassenberg, 2000). ...
... Generell muss die Anpassung des Nutzer-Interfaces in Betracht gezogen werden (Weinberger & Mandl, 2003), um die Bedienerfreundlichkeit zu gewährleisten. Ebenso sollte die Wenger, 2004) in der Nutzer-Community aufhalten. ...
... Como modelo de comunicação, usou-se o de Shanon e Mellon com breves alterações de Berlo [2003]. Dentre os principais pontos dos trabalhos correlatos [Herring 2002] [Weinberger 2003][Whitaker 2000], vale destacar que em geral existe uma comparação da comunicação mediada por computador e a comunicação face a face. Nesta comparação a perda de turn-taking e perda de sensação social são sempre mencionadas. ...
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... While Thomas and his colleagues focus on computer-mediated communication, future studies should analyze software-enabled group support systems from a knowledge perspective, and integrate the insights from studies on organizational conversations. We believe that such applications should be based more strongly on interactive, content-specific visuals (Weinberger & Mandl, 2003) or on visual metaphors (Haber et al., 1994;Lakoff & Johnson, 1980). Interactive visualizations are effective means for sharing knowledge. ...
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Self-guided collaborative learning with new media is highly demanding for the learners concerning collaboration and knowledge acquisition. Learning in a self-guided and collaborative learning environment means that a group works and solves tasks autonomously. In the context of new media the competence of autonomous and collaborative learning gets increasingly important because virtual learning environments offer the possibility to learn without guidelines concerning both a specific structure as well as temporal or spatial conditions. Therefore, we explain in a first step four relevant aspects of self-control: the preparation, coordination, organisation and control of the learning process. These aspects of self-guided collaborative work with new media are explained with three examples taken from university (virtual seminar), school (project work) and further education (virtual learning environment). Subsequently, general conditions for self-guided collaborative learning are presented. These comprise the learner’s motivational, cognitive and meta-cognitive antecedents, his collaboration and media competence, the structuring of the interaction with the help of the computer, the task concerning its necessity of getting solved by a group and finally also the learners’ reward for their joint effort. The contribution ends with a short outlook. Selbst gesteuert kooperativ mit neuen Medien zu lernen stellt an den Einzelnen hohe Anforderungen hinsichtlich des gemeinsamen Arbeitens und Wissenserwerbs. Selbst gesteuert und kooperativ zu lernen bedeutet, dass die Gruppe autonom arbeitet und Aufgaben eigenständig löst. Im Kontext der neuen Medien wird die Kompetenz, selbst gesteuert kooperativ zu lernen, zunehmend wichtig, weil virtuelle Lernumgebungen die Möglichkeit eröffnen, ohne strikte Vorgaben bezüglich des Vorgehens und der zeitlichen oder räumlichen Gegebenheiten zu lernen. Daher werden in einem ersten Schritt vier relevante Aspekte zur Selbststeuerung vorgestellt: die Vorbereitung, die Koordination, die Organisation sowie die Steuerung des Lernens. Diese Aspekte selbst gesteuerten kooperativen Arbeitens mit neuen Medien werden anhand von drei Beispielen aus der Hochschule (virtuelles Seminar), der Schule (Projektarbeit) sowie aus der Weiterbildung (virtuelle Lernumgebung) erläutert. Anschließend werden allgemeine Bedingungen für selbst gesteuertes kooperatives Lernen dargelegt. Diese umfassen den Lernenden mit seinen motivationalen, kognitiven und meta-kognitiven Voraussetzungen sowie seinen Kooperations- und Medienkompetenzen, die Strukturierung der Interaktion mit Hilfe des Computers, die Aufgabe bezüglich ihrer Notwendigkeit, von einer Gruppe gelöst zu werden, sowie die Anreizstruktur, insbesondere die Belohnung der Lernenden für ihre gemeinsame Anstrengung. Ein kurzer Ausblick rundet diese Erläuterungen ab.
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This paper discusses the qualities of computer-mediated communication (CMC) relevant to the teaching of argumentation skills. It describes an electronic mail (e-mail) study experiment carried out in an MEd level course in education. The aim of the experiment was to explore the possibility of using CMC to promote the argumentation skills of university students. The experiment (n = 31) was based on a comparison of tutor-led seminar mode (2 groups) with a student-led discussion mode (2 groups) using an e-mail study. The students practised argumentation during a six-week e-mail study period. The comparison group (n = 193) engaged in a traditional self-study. All the students' argumentation skills were measured after the experiment. The results indicated better argumentation skills among the e-mail students compared to those engaged in the self-study, and suggested that it is possible to promote argumentation skills through e-mail. In addition, the results suggested the superiority of the discussion mode of e-mail study over the seminar mode for practising argumentation.