Learning Support in Multi-Cultural Collaboration -Design and Analyses of Online Communication - Papers & Essays



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Learning Support in Multi-Cultural Collaboration -Design and Analyses of Online Communication

Multi-cultural Collaboration
As our society becomes more and more global, opportunities are abound at work, at school or in communities to meet someone from a different culture than one's own and learn creatively from such experiences. We have designed and implemented many online tools and workshops to foster creativity in multi-cultural settings (Mudpie unlimited, 2001), based on a set of design principles (Mudpie unlimited, 1999). We have argued that a creative process emerges when people can express themselves openly across cultural boundaries so that individual experiences can be connected with each other and their meanings are discovered at deeper levels (2004).

Offline and Online Support for Communication
In this paper, we examine a collaboration process spanning an eight months period, in which many types of activities took place including several workshops as well as spontaneous communication both online and face-to-face. The collaboration started in 2000 in the context of the "World Youth Meeting in Nagoya" (WYM) in which many students from different countries including Taiwan, Korea and Japan participated, and still continues in 2005 (Miyata et al. 2000). In this paper, we focus on their collaboration during the period between April and November in 2001.

Offline Support: During this period, a group of university students organized several workshops based on our framework for playful learning (Mudpie unlimited, 1999, 2001), in which they tried to facilitate communication and Meaningful Understanding of each other, through the Design of Playful and Intimate Environment (the MUDPIE model). Such an environment can be understood by a "Three-Phase Model of Trans-cultural Learning", summarized in Table 1.

Phases Characteristics Goals of facilitation Main psychological levels
I. Beginning Phase Participants with different backgrounds meet each other for the first time.
Understanding at shallow and abstract levels, especially the surface differences.
Relax the participants.
Promote interests in each other and in the theme and materials to be used in the collaboration.
Raise motivation to work together.
Emphasize interactions at the bodily and emotional levels, rather than at the intellectual and verbal levels.
II. Continuing Phase Try to understand each other in the process of working together on concrete materials and ideas. Support communication in the face of conflicts in values and opinions, and try to become aware of the differences. Shift from the bodily and emotional levels to the intellectual/verbal levels.
III. Reflection Phase Many materials and ideas are connected, and new ideas are created. Deeper understanding.
Discover meanings that transcend surface differences.
Connecting all psychological levels from body and emotion, to conceptual and abstract.
Table 1: Three-Phase Model of Trans-cultural Learning

Online Support: To support communication, we designed three types of online communication tools: a chat system, a Bulletin Board System (BBS), and a system combining the Web and mobile phones.

The chat system (I-chat) has a feature that, when someone joins in, sends a mail message to the mobile phones of the university students. It ensured that high school students could talk to the university students anytime they wanted to. It was often observed that students from Japanese and Taiwanese High Schools and discussed their WYM presentation with some University students. There were a total of 8,884 turns (a turn is an input by a person which can be one to several lines of text) in the chat during the period between April and November.
The BBS system (Hiroba) also has features to facilitate communication: for example, it can organize multiple BBS's so that messages on different topics by different groups are linked to each other. The BBS was used often to discuss and organize an event as well as sending messages reflecting on their experiences after an event. There were total of 218 articles and over 12,000 accesses on eight broad topics during this period.
Web-mobile system (MudpieRing) enabled the students to send messages anytime they needed from their mobile phones to a web server, which then displayed the messages on a web page.

Analyses of Communication
We examine the nature of the collaboration between the high school and university students, focusing mainly on their verbal expressions observed in their online communication.

Changes in high school students in BBS articles
The expressions of the high school students in the BBS changed qualitatively during the period. We examined many articles written by high school students during the period between July (WYM) and November (school festival), and found that the changes in their expressions can be characterized as follows:

A. We found decreasing number of sentences that mentioned one's own characteristics or someone else's characteristics. An example is "I thought the people in your lab were all very lively and playful."
B. We found increasing number of sentences that mentioned one's own actions or intentions toward making some relations with others. An example is "I personally was sorry that I could not involve a friend of mine because I wanted her to have wonderful experiences of meeting you".
C. We found some expressions that reflected on one's own experiences. An example is "I could gradually overcome my habit of avoiding expressing myself openly".

We counted the number of sentences in the articles that fell into the following three categories of expression:

A. Individualistic expression: an expression that describes only oneself or only someone else, typically in the form of "I am ..." or "You are ...".
B. Relational expression: an expression that mentions one's actions or intentions for making relations with someone else.
C. Reflective expression: an expression that mentions one's own actions or thoughts in a reflective manner.

Our analysis showed that, in July, there were many individualistic expressions than relational expressions. In contrast, in September, there were many more relational expressions than individualistic expressions. There was a clear increase in the relative frequency of relational expressions and similar increase in the number of reflective expressions.

Disembodied and Embodied View
We interpret these results as indicating a shift how the high school students viewed themselves and the other people: an Individualistic expression indicates that one views a person (oneself or someone else) as having certain characteristics separate from the rest of the world - what we call a "disembodied view". A Relational expression indicates that one sees oneself as a part of a network of potentially meaningful relations: others (people or media) are seen as someone with whom one could create new relationships - what we call an "embodied/situated view".

Support Structure in Chat Communication
Closer examination of the BBS articles suggested that relational expressions can be analyzed further in terms of the kind of relations the person was trying to create. We found that communication in the chat had a certain structure in terms of how participants try to support others' communication. To examine this structure, we categorized each turn in the chat communication according to its "support level".

Support Level 1: when a conversation is taken place simply among a group of people.
Support Level 2: when someone is talking with the intention to facilitate a level 1 communication.
Support Level 3: when someone is talking with an intention to facilitate a level 2 communication.
Support level 4 or higher: we found several occasions of level 4 communication, although it becomes increasingly difficult to identify higher level turns.

We found in the communication in I-chat, that the support levels of the high school students, university students and the teachers significantly increased from July to November.

We have observed changes at three levels:

a. Changes in types of activities: from participants to helpers and to organizers.
b. Changes in verbal expressions in the BBS articles: Individualistic expressions to relational and reflective expressions.
c. Structure in the chat communication: simple communication to supporting communication.

We hypothesized that these changes reflect how they view themselves and the others. Thus, when one views oneself as separate from the rest of the world (Disembodied view), one tends to be conscious more of one's own characteristic. As the view shifts to relations with the rest of the world (Embodied view), one becomes conscious more of potential relations one could create with others. This is consistent with the high school students' change in behavior (a) from "participants" to "helpers" and to "organizers" because organizing a workshop involves creating new relationships with others. It is consistent also with the difference in support levels in the chat communication that the organizers communicate at higher levels more frequently than helpers and participants.

Discussion: three-phase model and the support structure
To find out how such changes in the view and the behavior took place, based on more detailed analyses of the dialogue, we further hypothesize that a disembodied view makes it difficult to become aware of such motivation, whereas, by shifting to a more embodied view, it becomes easier to be aware of such motivation. Thus, a shift to an embodied view may activate a motivation suppressed by a disembodied view, and may eventually result in actions (either verbal or non-verbal) intended to create new relationships.
This hypothesis, together with the observations described in the previous sections, suggests the following scenario:

1. As the high school students participated and collaborated with the university students, they shifted their view from relatively disembodied ones to relatively embodied ones.
2. This shift made them aware of their desire to create relations as well as possibilities of making such relations, indicated by more relational expressions in the BBS.
3. This awareness led them to actions toward creating new relations, such as their workshop in the school festival, as well as level 2 and higher support in their chat communication.

We have further analyzed how the university students (and the teachers) helped the high school students shift their views. We found that the university students used different types of support at different phases of the collaboration, and that these phases roughly correspond to the Three-Phase Model of Trans-cultural Learning described in Table 1.

1. At the beginning phase (July), they most often tried to relax the high school students who were not used to communicating online with university students.
2. At the second, continuing phase (August), they more often asked questions to the high school students to help them express themselves.
3. And at the final, reflection phase (Sept-Nov), they tried to help the high school students reflect on their initial expressions so that they could discover deeper meanings.

Table 2 tries to summarize the observations and hypotheses described so far about (A) the types of support from the university students, (B) the types of view the high school students tended to have, (C) the kinds of communication the high school students were trying to do, and (D) the kind of roles the high school students spontaneously assign to themselves in the events and activities.

Phases (A) Support (B) View (C) Communication (D) Roles
Beginning Phase Relaxing Disembodied Simple (level 1) Participants
Continuing Phase Expressing Embodied Supporting (level 2) Facilitators
Reflection Phase Discovering Reflective Supporting (higher level) Organizers

Table 2: Relation between support, view, communication,
and roles of the high school students, at each phase of the three phases model

Table 2 is only meant to be a tentative summary of the general tendencies in these extremely complex phenomena, rather than an established result. Also, the three phases are only meant to be a guideline to understand the complex relations between many aspects of the phenomena, rather than distinctly defined stages. Nevertheless, the changes in the four aspects (A)-(D) seem fairly consistent with each other.

One important aspect of this model is that it is cyclic - the fact that the high school students, who initially were basically passive participants, became organizers and began to support others to communicate better, means that they can start a new process of learning by supporting new-comers. Thus, this model can be a basis of a self-sustainable learning community.

1. Playful Pieces, Mudpie Unlimited, & Child Research Net 1999, Child Research Net.
2. Playshop in World Youth Meeting, Miyata & Cumon. In Kageto (ed.) "World Youth Meeting 2000 in Nagoya Report".
3. Connections and Emergence, Mudpie Unlimited, 2001, Workshop in the 18th meeting of the Japanese Cognitive Science Society.
4. Music Playshop, Miyata, Y. et al., 2003, in "CANVAS Annual Report 2002".
5. For Embodied Self View - In Multi-Cultural Collaboration, 2003, Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Cognitive Science.
6. Discovering connections in a reflective meeting, Miyata, 2003, in Harada (ed.) Report on multi-disciplinary research project "Technology and Art", Japan Science and Technology Agency.
7. Learning and support structure in a long-term multi-cultural collaboration, Miyata, Sakakibara & Kato, 2004, Proceedings of the 21st Meeting of the Japanese Cognitive Science Society.

This paper develops the authors' theoretical framework for playful and emergent learning, which they presented in a keynote workshop at EdMedia 2005, based on empirical observations in many playshops they have organized since their first playshop "Playful!" held at and in collaboration with Child Research Net.