Presentation Abstract

Distance Group-Learning: Personalities and Authority

This paper describes a two-year study of computer-assisted freshman work groups, examining the intersection of group dynamics, teacher authority, and distance learning. Professors co-taught a freshman English course in a virtual classroom, combining student from Texas Tech U and Skidmore College. During the first year of the study, researchers had difficulties regarding respect of both the distant teacher and of the distant classmates. Students ignored the distant teacher's assignment advice and were highly territorial of their work, not wanting to share or collaborate in any way. Research revealed that these difficulties were due to several factors, such as not allowing play-time vs. work-time within virtual space, and teachers not wanting to give up authority to let others take on some authority. During this second year, teachers did much to correct these difficulties; this current research suggests conclusions in three areas: 1)ways students use technology to avoid both assignmnets and authority, 2)ways in which writing instructors need to intervene in order to gain and maintain authority in distant learning environments, and 3)ways the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator supports internet classroom dynamics.

This presentation briefly overviews the cross-disciplinary, protocol analysis research design (combining English, Anthropology, and Social Psychology), pedagogical implications of ineffective "shareware" integration, suggestions for gaining and maintaining authority in distance learning environments, and suggestions for using the Myers-Briggs research to enhance virtual spaces. The second year of the study, professors switched classes, teaching the distant students directly, in order to examine changes in authority and to determine ways that teachers might achieve authority in a distant environment without being physically present. Direct engagement with the distant (now present) authority revealed much about how instructors can place a "present" authority into a distant environment, without having to actually travel to the distant site. Teachers administered the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator to see if the groupings popular in the actual classroom, worked in the virtual classroom. Pitfalls, bloops and blunders are also mentioned in this presentation so that our mistakes need not be repeated. Throughout both years of the study, all students followed the same syllabus, use the same texts, worked in a group of four throughout the semester, and were given the same computer information and instruction. Only in the second year did teachers at remote locations "swap" classes, thus placing the distant authority directly in the classroom. Also, it was only in the second year that teachers utilized the personality indicator. Can students respect a distant authority? Can personality types help determine whatsthe teacher can expect in her virtual classroom? Answers were surprising.

Author: Linda J. Myers
Second Author: Philip Boshoff


Target Audience: Not Applicable

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