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Peer and Vicarious Framing, Problematization, and Situated Learning in Online Professional Masters Courses

Peer and Vicarious Framing, Problematization, and Situated Learning in
Online Professional Masters Courses
Susan Gasson
Drexel University
Jonan Donaldson
Drexel University
This paper presents a socio-cognitive view of
collaborative knowledge-building in situated
learning. We explore the modes of interaction
encountered in an online, professionally-oriented
graduate Project Management course, to understand
how we can provide the conditions for vicarious and
peer knowledge-building that situates learning within
the context, cultural identity, and practices of real-
world, professional work environments.
1. Introduction
As so much of our day to day life shifts online,
the emergence of online education platforms as the
transport medium for remote education has become
the norm. Online learning environments provide
some efficiency gains, consumer flexibility and the
potential to reach a wider audience. But online
learning environments present challenges for the
acquisition of professional knowledge and skills - the
ability to apply knowledge or methods gained in one
context to another. Professional domain courses, such
as Project Management, require the student to reflect
on their experience and to develop contingency
models of how to act that are based on the norms and
expectations of a professional community of practice.
But many students lack the experience to apply to
this task, or the ability to understand what they need
to learn and how to make sense of alternate courses
of action without recourse to the application domain.
It has been proposed that professional skills that are
developed in one context (for example a classroom)
then applied to a different context (for example,
professional project management) can be developed
through Web 2.0 tools: blogs, WIKIs, discussion
boards, and multimedia case analyses that allow
students to explore and evaluate knowledge provided
by experienced professional practitioners. But these
tools fail to support the joint practices and shared
cultural understandings that lead to the construction
of professional group identity and membership [9].
Situated learning involves the formative evaluation of
ideas from professional peers as well as course
instructors [11], reflective practice in a social context
[15], and vicarious learning through social interaction
[16]. After a brief period of research interest in the
late 1990s, an interest in the social context of
learning appears to have been largely subsumed to
the study of technology delivery platforms. We have
little understanding of how to design online learning
courses for the type of situated learning relevant to
professional domains. This paper reports on an
exploratory study to address the overarching
research question:
How can we engage students effectively in
situated learning processes that reflect the social
identity, cultural values, and practices of
professional communities of practice in online,
Masters degree courses?
2. Framing situated learning
The ability to select from, and to share cognitive
frames is central to situated professional practice.
Peripheral participants become core members of a
professional workgroup through a form of
apprenticeship, in which they are introduced to the
sociocultural norms and expectations that guide
definitions of “professional” (and, indeed “practice”)
[9]. Cognitive frames provide a performative
framework and script for action in similar situations
[7]. The constructivist learning learning by doing
that is involved in peripheral participation allows
newcomers to jointly enact organizational
frameworks for action, providing them with a shared,
performative frame that guides future practice [17]
and to reflect on the material-discursive practices that
constitute “professionalism” in organizational work,
guiding identity [9]. But situated learning requires a
context that can be related to the context of
organizational practice sufficiently well to allow
students to develop context- and community specific
frameworks for action.
Proceedings of the 51st Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences |2018
ISBN: 978-0-9981331-1-9
(CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)
Page 1943
Vicarious learning communicates context in the
form of case studies, analogies, and “war stories”. In
online learning environments, it can be accomplished
by the analysis and problematization of case studies
under the guidance of an instructor, or by peer-
learning whole accomplishing a shared task, or
engaging in a problem-directed discussion [1, 2].
Problematization, the framing and structuring of
situational elements to present specific types or
aspects of a problem, is understood to be a key part
of developing strategies for professional practice
but is also susceptible to a variety of social
constructions that may make it less helpful in
developing transferable skills [12]. The acquisition of
transferable skills that are valued in professional
practice requires contextualization, provided by
“thought leaders” who shape community frames with
narratives, analogies, and problematizations that fit
with the context of professional practice [5]. We
therefore examine the role of problematization in the
construction of transferable frameworks for action.
Finally, social engagement with a community of
practice (or inquiry) is critical in constructing shared
frameworks for action and problematization.
Learning occurs in the space between an individual
and the community of practice [8] Constructivist
approaches to education focus on individual cycles of
knowledge assimilation, while situated learning
focuses on advancing community knowledge, with
individual learning as a by-product [14].. Community
knowledge-building requires a strong focus on ideas
and the situated context in which they are applied to
be of value. This can be provided by course materials
that scaffold the vicarious learning experience for
students [1, 2], and through cycles of interaction
between students, their peer learning community
members, and forms of problematization that reflect
“real ideas, authentic problems” [13]. Becoming a
professional practitioner involves legitimate
peripheral participation, through which the individual
learner identifies themselves as a member of a
professional community, and becomes enculturated
in the norms and values of that community, as well as
its practices [8, 9].
In light of the concepts discussed here, we
defined three detailed research questions:
RQ1. How can we define an effective set of guiding
principles for vicarious learning and peer-community
knowledge building?
RQ2. How do students in professionally-oriented,
online MS courses collectively construct and
understand course-related knowledge?
RQ3. How can community knowledge be
contextualized for professional relevance?
3. Method
This paper presents an exploratory study of
elements that enable effective peer-learning, to
produce transferable skills, knowledge, and to
develop students’ metacognitive abilities. We present
our analysis of (guided) discussions between 26
students engaged in an online Information Systems
Project Management course. This course was selected
for our initial sample, as it provides a good example
of professional practice in a specialist context
(technical systems development), combining this
with the need to learn the “soft” skills that appear to
be problematic in online learning environments. It
included a majority of students with experience of
working on IS development projects, so students
possessed a relatively high degree of professional
experience that they could share.
The main stream of course instruction was
provided by lectures, instructor podcasts, and worked
examples, which guided students through an
incremental series of learning-by-doing assignments,
which evaluated students’ ability to apply skills and
knowledge about project planning to a case study
situation. The discussions analyzed in this paper
constituted a secondary stream of learning, to
supplement these practical skills with situational and
professional community knowledge about how to
manage software development projects.
To understand individual vs. collective
knowledge building behaviors of students, we
employed a grounded theory analysis of student
discussion post behaviors [6]. We performed three
rounds of coding, starting with a set of a priori codes
derived from a previous grounded theory study by the
first author [5], as our topic guide. Development of a
topic guide acknowledges the influence of other
authors and examines our own pre-understanding of
the research problem to clarify an appropriate focus
for initial data collection and analysis [5]. Each data
set was coded by the second author in consultation
with the first author, to discuss and validate
categories. We employed a rich memoing process to
collect and discuss both processual and analytic
insights. Comparing the rationale for differences in
coding across researchers is more effective in
developing a set of theoretical categories for
grounded theory than the form of co-coder
comparison used in studies that adopt a pre-defined
coding scheme [5]. We focused our initial selective
coding around what we had noted about how students
interacted, refining the initial categories of their role
in debate development, and introducing categories to
capture their social discourse behaviors, and their
knowledge-building discourse behaviors, as they
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synthesized, developed, or disagreed with the ideas of
others. This led to a set of selective codes that
emerged around the core category of idea framing:
how students framed, reframed, problematized, or
agreed frames for that week’s topic, as socially-
situated framing. At this point, we returned to the
literature on framing, in particular the work of
Goffman [7], relating this to work on social cognition
in learning environments [14], to understand the
observed behaviors. Theoretical sampling compared
categories of socio-cognitive behaviors and patterns
in community debate across weeks of discussion
each of which dealt with a separate professional topic
or problem for discussion. We developed our current
set of meta-categories and our substantive model of
how these are related after the first 4-5 weeks’ of data
analysis, but continued the constant comparison
across all weeks to ensure theoretical saturation [3].
4. Findings
4.1 Guiding principles for vicarious learning
and community knowledge building
The guiding principles emphasized by
Scardamalia [13] were adopted for this course
scaffold, which provided procedural guidelines for
discussion, reinforced by an explicit reward structure
(grading rubric).
4.1.1 Procedural guidelines. Under the heading
Participation In Class Discussions, students were
provided with procedural guidelines for how to
participate in collective knowledge building, as
Reflective discussion is a critical part of learning-
by-doing, as is the critical thinking that
professional skills require. I expect discussions to
be equivalent in quality to the type of analysis that
you might produce for your manager if he or she
asked you to investigate how to do something
new. You should prepare assigned cases and
readings in advance, research that week’s topic
and discuss the questions/topics set for each (and
every) week with informed insight.
Students were instructed to post an individual
analysis of the topic or case study that addressed the
questions posted on the discussion board, on or
before Thursday of each week (Mon-Sun). Questions
were structured to be exploratory but also directed to
specific situations or skills [4]. They were required to
follow this up with at least two reflective discussions
of the posts of other students, as follows:
: Read and respond to (discuss or critique)
at least two of your fellow-students’ analyses.
Follow up with people who have responded to
your analysis - and those who have responded to
your critique of their analysis in interactive
debate that reaches a consensus on how to deal
with the topic for that week.
The graph shown in Figure 1 provides a summary of
discussion posts over the 10 weeks of the course.
Figure 1. Discussion post totals and timing
The majority of posts were made in good time and
were focused on the situation under discussion. Some
topics generated more debate than others. In week 8,
when students discussed what makes for a successful
adaptive project, the debate was still raging at the
week-end, as students returned to read and respond to
posts for 2-3 days following. 10% of week 8’s
messages were posted after the weekend.
Table 1. Discussion reward-structure (extract)
A+ (MVP)
Consistently participates, debates
points, and provides unique insights
which significantly adv
ance the
understanding of others. Provides
resources and interpretations of topic
from research and reading. Frequently
interacts with other students in debate,
adding to, complicating, and extending
their insights multiple times.
A (1st
Consistently participates by attempting
to explain relevant issues, providing
insights and resources from own
experience or research. Often interacts
with other students in debate (at least
twice in each week), and
the ideas of others
at least once.
“I have no experience, so I have
nothing to say. Here’s a summary of
something that I read” (with attribution
and your own summary). Responds to
others with additional information
C (Lookout)
Good observer, participates at end of
discussion, usually only contractually
with a few comments on the thought of
others (“that’s a good idea, Jake!”).
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4.1.2 Explicit reward structure. Students were
provided with an explicit reward-structure for course
participation. This participation framework was
developed over multiple prior studies, which have
verified that this achieves increased peer-interaction
and posting of “war stories” that may lead to
vicarious-learning [16]. The rubric, an extract from
which is given in Table 1, rewards specific
participation behaviors, by associating with a higher
grade behaviors such asprovides unique insights
which significantly advance the understanding of
others,” or “complicating, and extending [peer
student] insights.” It associates behaviors that are
thought to undermine effective problematization or
peer-knowledge construction with a lower grade.
4.1.3 The role of early, formative feedback. Early
and explanatory instructor feedback was found to be
a critical part of the scaffold for community
knowledge-building. Students were provided with the
following advice: War stories and reflections on
your own experience - in class, other courses, or in
your company- are appreciated! Experience does not
need to relate specifically to software projects -
project management is project management,
regardless of the product.” But in weeks 1 and 2,
students were still unsure of how to post, or what
content constituted “discussion.”
Rapid instructor feedback in these weeks asked
students to illustrate the point they were making with
explicit stories, examples, and analogies, in order to
“make it real.” Students were encouraged to explain
the situation in which they had experienced issues,
and to explain how the situation affected things.
From week 3 onwards, following two rounds of rapid
formative feedback, student posts tended to become
more informative, interactive, and situated in the
context and contingencies of the problems discussed.
4.2 Individual framing & problematization
We then performed a second round of coding, to
identify socio-cognitive behaviors that indicated
interactions based on socially-situated knowledge
construction. This resulted in a set of interaction
categories based on social discourse and knowledge-
building interactions. As we engaged in comparison
of student interaction behaviors across weekly-
samples, sub-categories emerged that were related to
how students framed the topic, or problematized the
frames employed by others. These are summarized in
Table 2. These codes allowed us to explore both
individual attempts to understand issues related to
each week’s topic and how individuals interacted
with other community members to achieve a
collaborative process of understanding.
Table 2. Explanation of Advanced Framing Behaviors
in vivo
Prior to formal kick-off I would attempt to
collect as much of the project context as I
could and review it to fine-tune the approach.
From our prior conversations, I do not think
one size fits all and requirements solicitation is
no different. In some instances, the
information that I would be attempting to
retrieve beforehand simply may not exist, be
loosely defined, may be requirements from
one viewpoint in the organization, may
describe a potential solution instead of the
root problem(s) we are trying to solve or a
mixture of the above.
Implicit framing involves discussing aspects of
the topic, process, or problem set by the
instructor for that week. Three related questions
would relate the topic to course materials and
readings, to provide students with an explicit
scaffold for the week’s discussion students
generally answered one to all of these, in their
initial framing attempt. Students would explore
the questions through the lens of personal
experience or readings and materials from the
course. Almost all students would attempt this, in
any week.
Ensuring that all stakeholders fully understand
the requirements and outcomes is essential . .
. However, when working with diverse groups
of stakeholders the challenge becomes the
requirements needed by each group can differ
substantially from another group.
Frame definition involves proposing or creating a
new perspective/lens through which to
understand a concept, process, or problem.
/ reiteration
You are correct when you say use-case will
guide us in deciding what function point
needed. It also simple enough to minimize the
overhead of the measurement process as well
as a consistent measure among various
projects and organizations.
Frame confirmation/reiteration repeats aspects of
the frame already in play, often through stories
which illustrate an aspect of the frame. Because
stories are also used by frame elaborators, it is
important to identify the purpose of the story.
Frame confirmers may also reiterate or
paraphrase what has been already said
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Table 2 (continued). Explanation of Advanced Framing Behaviors
in vivo
I wanted to take your point further regard the
last bullet point in Q1 where you mention
about stakeholder’s role, and commitment to
the overall impact on the project. In many
cases the culture of the organization and
commitment to the project from the top can
influence the relationship between business
management and project mgmt.
Frame elaboration builds on the existing frame,
often through stories (but only when the story
adds something new). Because stories are also
used by frame confirmers, it is important to
identify the purpose of the story. Frame
elaborators may also describe in greater detail
aspects of what has already been said
the frame
Stakeholders not being taken seriously is an
issue I have not heard of before. Do you have
any war stories about it?
Questioning the frame points to problematic
aspects of the frame, or to the underlying
assumptions of the frame.
the frame
I wonder, though, given the complexity of
systems that we are developing today,
whether it is possible to fully understand
project scope
Breaking the frame involves rejection of a core
aspect or underlying assumption of the frame
currently in frame.
I think what I'm trying to say with all of this is
that you should consider more optimistic time
estimates if you attempt to use agile
Frame revision is a form of reframing which
involves changing aspects of the frame (minor or
major changes), but keeps a significant portion of
the original frame intact.
new frame
My grandfather had a wonderful way of
describing how the Allies beat the Axis in
World War II. It was because of the
intervention of the Americans, who, according
to him, excelled at organized chaos. I believe
this is also a quality that one is apt to find in a
good project manager.
New frame proposal is a form of reframing which
involves rejection of a frame which was
previously in play, while proposing an alternative
frame. The new frame may include some aspects
of the frame previously in play, but rejects a
significant portion such that the new frame bears
little resemblance to the previous frame.
Table 3. Frequency of Framing Behaviors
S2 S3 S4
S6 S7 S8
S9 S10
9 10
9 10
7 10
6 10
6 10
1 248
1 0 1 1 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 16
2 0 1 2 3 0 2 0 5 5 2 4 5 0 0 5 0 3 8 2 1 2 3 0 2 1 0 116
1 2 0 6 2 3 8 0 5 8 1 2 1 0 3 2 0 0 3 2 0 2 2 1 2 0 0 112
framing or
0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 1 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 10
the Frame
2 0 2 0 0 1 5 0 1 0 0 1 2 2 1 2 1 1 3 0 0 1 4 0 3 1 0 66
Breaking the
0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 1 0 0 1 0 0 14
1 1 0 1 0 0 2 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 1 1 0 0 2 1 0 2 0 0 1 0 0 28
New Frame
0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 2 0 0 2 0 0 10
40 53
46 54
32 67
5 47 21
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After coding all weeks’ data using the three
category schemas (role in debate development, social
discourse, and knowledge-building discourse
categories), we employed data visualizations to explore
possible relationships between categories [10]. The
initial visualizations were concerned with the
relationships between the a priori categories and the
two emergent framing categories exemplified in Table
2. When we examined individual student framing
behaviors, we discovered that behaviors that radically
develop or problematize the frames of others are rare.
The most common behaviors were:
Implicit framing (the initial attempt at
understanding the topic);
Frame reiteration or confirmation (me too! Posts);
Frame elaboration (where a student would provide
examples or analogies that explained how the frame
might operate in detail.
Although not as common, questioning the frame was
encouragingly frequent, leading students to have
productive debates. These tended to take place in
dyads, with other students joining in once they
understood the point being made. Explicit framing
the type of synthesis where a student intentionally
summarized the collective frame for others, was rare,
as was a new frame proposal. Many instances of frame
questioning, rejection, or frame breaking were left
hanging, with no alternatives proposed and no
exploratory discussion to develop the frame. This may
be due to the fragmented nature of a one-week
discussion cycle, or it may be due to the poor structure
afforded to the debate by Blackboard’s discussion
board format.
4.3 Contextualization and social engagement
with community thought-leaders
We defined a “thought-leader” as someone whose
ideas would be sought out by others. In the social
network analysis of message read data, we would
expect thought-leaders to have a high in-degree
centrality. Although Blackboard provides few tools for
analyzing interactions or student access data in real
time, it does archive read and “hit” data for its
discussion boards. This provided individual read access
trace data, from which we produced a directional social
network analysis (produced using Gephi) of who is
reading whose posts. The resulting network, over the
10 weeks of the course, is shown in Figure 3. Nodes in
the social network graph are sized in proportion to the
popularity of posts (the in-degree centrality of the
post’s author). So the larger the disk representing each
student, the more people read their posts. Edges are
sized proportionately to the strength of connection
between two students the more frequently one
student read another’s posts, the thicker the connecting
line between them. It can be seen that there was a core
group of students whose posts were read regularly by
other students. Of course, habits like posting early in
the week tended to ensure a wider readership than
posts made later in the week students were pretty
strategic in their posting habits. But this data is not the
“Hit” count that records people floating past a post. It
is taken from explicit read accesses, where someone
made a deliberate choice to stop, open, and read a post.
Figure 3. Social network analysis of who read
whose posts
The degree of interactivity seen here is
encouraging, validating the role of a reward structure
that is designed to encourage collaborative debate and
complexification of community frames. In fact, the
social network shows a remarkably cohesive
community, with almost no-one whose views are
undervalued. There were no distinct cliques, possibly
because of the proactive socialization engaged in by a
core group of students (S4, S10, S13, S18, S19, S20,
and S22). These students worked really hard at
engaging less socially-interactive students, making the
discussion much more inclusive than it might have
otherwise been and setting the tone for wider debate.
Figure 4 shows a directional social network
analysis (produced using Gephi) of direct interactions
in the discussion board. The node size and font size
indicate a student’s degree centrality (connectedness to
other community members). The colors indicate the
degree of betweenness centrality: the redder the node,
the more that student mediated between clusters of
other students. The core group identified from post
reads - S4, S10, S13, S18, S19, S20, and S22are still
prominent, but not all so central to the flow of
collaborative knowledge-building.
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Figure 4. Social network analysis of who
collaborated with whom in knowledge-building
So how did our framers and problematizers do, in
terms of social network prominence? Table 4
summarizes the more advanced framing and
problematization behaviors observed in our analysis,
ranking students from the most engaged with framing
and problematization (S7), to the least engaged (S27).
It is clear that there is some relationship between
social recognition, both in terms of the thought-
leadership that leads others to seek out a student’s
posts, and the social facilitation that leads others to
engage a student in constructive knowledge-building. It
is also noticeable that the three most active discussants
were also social mediators; S4, S7, and S19 stood out
in their efforts to mediate topics across discussion
subthreads, ranging from how to deal with an
incompetent boss, to how to manage projects according
to the ACM code of ethics when the client wanted
reports on every user activity. When we explored the
behaviors of those who were central to the learning
community social network, we found a strong link
between social engagement and the more advanced
framing behaviors, with the exception of S4 who
tended to focus on social recognition for interesting
perspectives, rather than problematization of others’
frames. While this facilitated the discussion
immensely, encouraging more reticent students to
hazard a disagreement with the current frame, it did not
in itself advance the construction of a shared model of
the week’s topic.
4.4 Collective framing & problematization
We conceptualized the collective process as an
interactive, socio-cognitive cycle. Students engaged in
Table 4. Frequency of Framing Behaviors
(Percentage of total found, across 10 weeks)
Student ID
S12 4.7% 5.0% 0.0%
S5 4.7% 0.0% 0.0%
S18 2.4% 2.5% 0.0%
S24 0.8% 0.0% 0.0%
cycles of debate to build a collective understanding of
the topic, with framing followed by confirmation or
reiteration, followed by elaboration or
problematization, followed by reframing. This cycle
appears to start with an individual engaging in explicit
framing. In Table 5, we present a sequence of
examples in which students explicitly frame project
management planning by contrasting agile or adaptive
project planning with predictive project planning. We
argue that these examples, which were interspersed
with other, less self-aware contributions, demonstrate
the type of metacognitive engagement with
knowledge-building that is required to construct
contextualized, real-world knowledge. Learners
engaging in these processes are forced to think
critically about the nature of the work they perform.
It appears that the incentive scheme, the description
of discussion behaviors, and early instructor feedback
to encourage development of stories, examples, and
analogies, guide students towards advanced framing.
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Instances of problematizing the frame never
precede framing, and reframing never precedes
problematizing the frame. Framing is not always
followed directly by problematizing. In the majority of
the cases, framing was followed by frame confirmation
or reiteration, or by frame elaboration. Since frame
elaboration often raised as many questions as it
clarified, frame elaboration was interpreted as
straddling both framing and problematizing. In the
cycle of debate shown in Table 5, explicit framing is
followed by frame elaboration in which another student
describes the differences between adaptive and
predictive project planning in terms of impact on future
iterations, and then frame reiteration. Framing, frame
confirmation/ reiteration, and frame elaboration were
often either accompanied by or conducted via the
modalities of stories (and/or analogies) and linking.
Instances of problematizing the frame were most often
in the form of questioning the frame, and at a lesser
frequency in the form of breaking the frame.
Two types of problematization were identified:
proximal problematizing, where a student questioned
the frame via, or in response to, another’s frame
elaboration, and radical problematizing, where a
student breaks the frame (disagreeing radically with the
perspectives of others and introducing a collective
breakdown into community knowledge-building). As
with framing, instances of problematizing the frame
were often either conducted via or accompanied by
stories or linking. In Table 5 we see radical
problematizing in which a student breaks the frame by
rejecting the binary of adaptive vs. predictive project
planning. Instances of frame-problematization were
often left hanging, without any responses or
suggestions of how to reframe the issue. When
reframing did occur, it took one of two forms: a revised
frame, or the proposal of a new frame. As with
problematization, reframing instances ranged from
proximal reframing in the form of minor frame-
revision to radical reframing, where new or
substantially different frames were proposed. Instances
of reframing were often expressed through or followed
by linking to other students’ experiences, analogies, or
stories. The same student who broke the initial
collective frame subsequently engaged in radical
reframing by proposing a new frame, that of organized
5. Discussion: social and metacognitive
engagement in collective knowledge-building
From our grounded theory analysis, we have
developed a substantive theory, which suggests that
community framing may be most closely related to the
role of thought-leaders in initiating explicit frames for
the community, problematizing the frame may be
Table 5. In vivo examples of posts in a cycle of
framing, problematization, and resolution
Descriptive or
in vivo
Depending on the type of system being
developed, I think that there are two
(followed by a description of agile
in contrast to predictive project planning)
The major differences between adaptive
and predictive planning, adaptive
planning is to avoid any predicable
planning in future iterations and
predictive planning can be predicable,
speculative, in other words, anti-adaptive.
adaptive planning doesn't necessarily
provide that future insight so it's more
difficult to plan to do work now to reduce
work in the future
reaking the
Whether or not any of the stages of
project planning have different time
horizons or are conceived of from
different perspectives, the nature of work
does not change. Certain tasks must be
accomplished in the pursuit of some
defined goal.
new frame
No process can presume a perfect
knowledge of all possible scenarios, no
matter how carefully planned something
is … My grandfather had a wonderful way
of describing how the Allies beat the Axis
in World War II. It was because of the
intervention of the Americans, who,
according to him, excelled at organized
chaos. I believe this is also a quality that
one is apt to find in a good project mgr.
closely related to an understanding of the need to
complicate community framing, and reframing may
come about as the result of social or socio-cognitive
community facilitation. Figure 5 depicts our
substantive theory of the ways in which individual
framing and problematization appear to feed into the
collective construction of meaning. Participants in
online discussions engage in cycles of framing,
problematizing suggested frames, and reframing the
ideas to produce a workable model of action for the
community. We observed repeated patterns of
interactive and framing behaviors, summarized in
Figure 5, which contributed to these cycles of
understanding. An initial frame suggested by one or
more participants is elaborated and then contextualized
by reference to the socio-cultural framework of
practice in which it would be applied. This leads to
participants questioning the frame, problematizing it by
providing a structure for analysis that leads to a
breakdown of the frame. The problematized situation is
recontextualized by exploring the conditions under
which the frame breaks down, to revise the frame and
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then to engage in radical reframing, as participants
situate the revised frame in various contexts, and link
the emerging revision to other participants’ situated
We observed that some framing cycles did not
result in reframing, but petered out, indicating limited
learning. How to manage that remains a matter for
further research.
Figure 5. A substantive theory of how patterns of framing & contextualization build into shared,
situated professional knowledge
We have attempted to theorize patterns of
interaction that develop shared frames of how to
participate in a professional community of practice.
In Goffman’s [7] depiction of framing, the world that
actors inhabit is physically-interactive. Symbolic
meanings are constructed through observations of the
real world that sensitize actors to the nature of action
and its consequences. The mechanisms by which
ideas are framed and understandings internalized
depend on physical interactions Schön’s dialog
with the context of action [15]that are not available
to participants in online communities. In the context
of online courses, we have theorized that by
introducing vicarious and peer-knowledge to
supplement that of the instructor, we may provide a
requisite variety of perspectives through which
students can understand professional practice without
“being there” in practice [17].
In designing this study, we asked three detailed
questions, the answers to which are summarized here:
RQ1. How can we define an effective set of
guiding principles for vicarious learning and peer-
community knowledge building? Section 4.1
provided the set of guiding principles and an explicit
reward structure that we found effective in regulating
peer-debate. We found that student engagement in
peer-knowledge construction, and the development of
students’ ability to engage in vicarious learning
depended on instructor awareness of the type of
contributions that provided situated knowledge (using
stories, analogies, and specific examples), coupled
with early, formative feedback from the instructor.
RQ2. How do students in professionally-oriented,
online MS courses collectively construct and
understand course-related knowledge? We
identified patterns of framing, contextualizing, and
reasoning behaviors that underpin the construction of
shared, situated knowledge. We identified patterns of
peer-interaction and how frames are contextualized to
provide an abstract understanding that can be related
to various situations in collaborative discourse.
Finally, we derived a substantive theory of how
patterns of discourse & contextualization build into
shared, situated professional knowledge in a
community of inquiry, shown in Figure 5.
RQ3. How can community knowledge be
contextualized for professional relevance? Our
substantive theory advances our understanding by
relating the social cognitive processes underpinning
the construction of situated knowledge to a proxy
form of legitimate peripheral participation [9] that
can be employed in an online community of inquiry,
where access to the real-world locations with which a
community of practice engages is not feasible.
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6. Conclusions
In this paper, we have presented the findings from
a grounded theory study that explored the patterns of
socially-situated learning required to educate and
enculturate students as legitimate peripheral
participants in professional practice [9]. Our findings
suggest a substantive theory of how patterns of
framing & contextualization build into shared,
situated professional knowledge. This study draws on
prior work by the first author [4, 5] but should also be
considered as part of a stream of research aimed at
producing an emergent theory of how to support and
scaffold online instruction, for professional Masters
degree courses. A substantive theory is based on the
constant comparison of findings across multiple data
samples to explore common themes, relationships,
and patterns in a specific situation [6]. Our theory is
therefore transferable to similar contexts [3]. The
contribution of this study is to advance our
understanding of how to support professional,
situated, knowledge construction in a community of
inquiry by providing a socio-cognitive theory of how
students frame, problematize, and reframe collective
knowledge by means of contextualizations that
provide a proxy form of legitimate peripheral
participation in professional group identity and
membership [8, 9]. These processes depend on
experienced participants in the professional domain
(in this case, software development projects) who act
as thought-leaders and can contribute vicarious
knowledge to this joint community process of
sensemaking [17].
We plan to explore more courses that involve
collective knowledge-building to explore if patterns
of framing/problematization/reframing vary with
different contexts of professional knowledge. This
work will lead to improved design of evaluation tools
and visualizations for online instruction that aid in
identifying and supporting peer- and vicarious
learning in professional, graduate-level courses.
7. References
[1] Cox, R., McKendree, J., Tobin, R., Lee, J., and Mayes,
J.T., "Vicarious learning from dialogue and discourse: A
controlled comparison", Instructional Science, 27, 1999,
pp. 431-458.
[2] Dineen, F., Mayes, J.T., and Lee, J., "Vicarious learning
through capturing task-directed discussions", Association
for Learning Technology Journal, 7(3), 1999, pp. 33-43.
[3] Gasson, S., "Rigor In Grounded Theory Research: An
Interpretive Perspective On Generating Theory From
Qualitative Field Studies", in M. Whitman and A.
Woszczynski, (Eds.): Handbook for Information Systems
Research, Idea Group Publishing, Hershey PA, 2003
[4] Gasson, S. and Waters, J., "How (not) to construct ALN
course questions that encourage student participation in
peer collaboration and knowledge construction", Hawaii
Intl. Conference on System Sciences (HICSS-40), 2007
[5] Gasson, S. and Waters, J., "Using A Grounded Theory
Approach To Study Online Collaboration Behaviors",
European J. of Info. Systems, 22(1), 2013, pp. 95118.
[6] Glaser, B.G. and Strauss, A.L., The Discovery of
Grounded Theory, Aldine Publishing, New York, 1967.
[7] Goffman, E., Frame Analysis, Harper and Row, New
York, NY, 1974.
[8] Lave, J., "Situating Learning In Communities of
Practice", in L.B. Resnick, J.M. Levine, and S.D. Teasley,
(Eds.): Perspectives on Socially Shared Cognition,
American Psych. Assoc., Washington DC, 1991, pp. 63-82.
[9] Lave, J. and Wenger, E., Situated Learning: Legitimate
Peripheral Participation, Cambridge University Press,
Cambridge UK, 1991.
[10] Lempert, L.B., "Asking Questions of the Data: Memo-
Writing in the Grounded Theory Tradition", in A. Bryant
and K. Charmaz, (Eds.): The Sage Handbook of Grounded
Theory, Sage, Thousand Oaks Cal., 2007, pp. 245-264.
[11] McLaughlin, T. and Yan, Z., "Diverse delivery
methods and strong psychological benefits: A review of
online formative assessment", Journal of Computer
Assisted Learning, 2017,
[12] Reiser, B.J., "Scaffolding complex learning: The
mechanisms of structuring and problematizing student
work", The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13(3), 2004,
pp. 273-304.
[13] Scardamalia, M., "Collective Cognitive Responsibility
for the Advancement of Knowledge", in B. Smith, (ed.):
Liberal education in a knowledge society, Open Court,
Chicago, 2002, pp. 67-98.
[14] Scardamalia, M. and Bereiter, C., "Knowledge
building: Theory, pedagogy, and technology", in K.
Sawyer, (ed.): Cambridge Handbook of Learning Sciences,
Cambridge Univ. Press, New York, 2006, pp. 97-118.
[15] Schön, D.A., Educating the Reflective Practitioner,
Jossey-Bass, San Francisco, CA., 1987.
[16] Waters, J. and Gasson, S., "Supporting Reflective,
Peer and Vicarious Learning in Online, Professional
Graduate Courses", Hawaii Intl. Conference on System
Sciences (HICSS-48), 4-8 Jan. 2015., 2015
[17] Weick, K.E., Making Sense of the Organization,
Blackwell Scientific, Malden MA, 2001.
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