Soft Leaders, Hard Artifacts, and the Groups We Rarely See: Using Video to Understand Peer Learning Processes

Hmelo-Silver, C., Katic, E., Nagarajan, A., & Chernobilsky, E (2007). Soft Leaders, Hard Artifacts, and the Groups We Rarely See: Using Video to Understand Peer Learning Processes. In Goldman, R., Pea, R., Barron, B., & Derry, S.J. (Eds.), Video Research in the Learning Sciences (pp. 255-270). (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

In Soft Leaders, Hard Artifacts and the Groups We Rarely See: Using Video to Understand Peer Learning Processes, Hmelo-Silver, Katic, Nagarajan, and Chernobilshy follow the group process of one successful group during a PBL course for ED Psych graduate student. Within this course students focused on solving several problems. The segments used for the study were the second and fourth. The second problem focused on cognitive analysis of strategies another student (Brandon) was using to learn and reason. The fourth problem was for the groups to redesign a physics lesson based on constructivist principles.

Research Questions: Though not explicitly labeled the question seemed to be how is cognition distributed in effective PBL groups? The implication being that if we know about this area we can better scaffold it in collaborative learning.

Sample and Method of Data Collection and Analysis:
In terms of the sample, the authors looked at 14 hours of videos and then reduced them down to nine clips between 40 seconds to 2 minutes for characteristic interactions. The authors employed Jordan and Henderson’s (1995) ideas from Interaction Analysis. Since the authors were looking at “social and material aspects of group collaboration,“ they felt they could be easily identified from reviewing the segments (without transcription and coding beforehand). Once the 9 segments had been identified, these segments were transcribed and reviewed by team or researchers. The researchers then developed both “grounded” and “higher-level,” hypotheses about what was going on in the interactions and compared notes.

Member checks in the form of follow-up two-hour interviews where then conducted with two of the five group participants. During these semi-structured interviews, group members were asked about each of the nine clips and these interviews were then transcribed and analyzed.

Results: The key results from this study are several findings. They focus on the three areas of 1) how the groups interacted to share attention and socially construct knowledge, 2) use artifacts in learning, and 3) how some of the group members adopted a role of “soft leader, ” (p 260).

1) Shared Attention and Social Knowledge Construction:
Group members used something to write notes on that everyone could see. In this case it was a whiteboard. In a virtual world this could be a note card, a whiteboard, something a bit more interactive like an Etherpad site etc. Using something that everyone could see was important because it helped to solidify everyone’s thinking and allowed for negotiation, clarification, and discussion. While negotiating was in process, group members showed mutual respect and promoted a dynamic of questioning and explaining ideas. If team members proposed ideas they needed to back up their statements with why they thought a certain way.
2) Artifacts:In terms of what was used during the collaborative process, block we part of the activity the group was analyzing and so they used blocks to make points, try out ideas, and explain things. Similarly during the group presentation, a poster served as the groups finalized solution to the problem. The poster also was a discussion tool. Something group members could point to and use for explanation.
3) Soft Leaders: Two of the group members exhibited strategies often used by facilitators in PBL sessions. The strategies were asking group members to explain their ideas and helping to monitor the group’s process.

Additional Thoughts:
This book chapter makes me want to review Jordan and Henderson’s article on Interaction Analysis to see how different/similar it is to the traditional process of the constant comparative method using in Grounded Theory. It seemed to be a simpler process initially but was followed up by pretty extensive interviews, which was something Hmelo-Silver et al added to the process. Which is helpful as a clarifying member check but also adds more time to the process.

A not-so-serious place for thoughts on education, technology, research, and fun.