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Friday, September 28, 2007

Articles of Note: Corgi Catches, Sept. 24, 2007

We dig through databases, online journals, an e-learning magazines for online learning articles of interest. In this weekly series, we present a few articles that you might find useful, thought-provoking, or simply interesting. Instead of giving you only the citation, we'll give you more. We'll provide a brief overview and synopsis of the article.

Here's an audio overview: Podcast.

We hope you find this to be helpful!

Articles that caught the Corgi’s eye this week:

Darling, C., McWey, L., Howard, S. and Olmstead, S. (2007). College student stress: The influence of interpersonal relationships on sense of coherence. Stress and Health 23: 215–229.

This paper reports the results of studies to find the relationships between college student stress on a sense of coherence. A high sense of coherence is a good predictor of college success. Investigators asked a number of questions of participants in the study, including the following: What are college student stressors? What are student perceptions of the stressors? The results of this study can be applied to online learning, and it’s an opportunity for online courses to incorporate strategies to help students develop a sense of coherence. In order to appreciate the role of coherence, one must first understand what a sense of coherence is. According to Darling, etal, coherence is a “holistic frame of mind, generally expressed by a stable and persistent feeling that one’s environment, internal and external, will be both predictable and reasonable” (Darling, etal, 2007, p. 215). The stronger the sense of coherence (SOC), the more likely the individual will be to cope with ever-present stressors – finances, work, interpersonal relationships, school, family – as well as new ones. A strong sense of coherence is important in helping individuals learn how to manage finances, embark on independent living, develop decision-making skills, etc. Some students are able to adjust to the profound challenges of college life while others struggle with the mounting stress (p. 216). The theoretical basis of the study is the Family Stress Theory (FST), which looks at people’s lives in terms of resources and their perception of their resources, which is to say that people must perceive that resources are available and adequate. Translated to e-learning, the concepts presented in this article reinforce the importance of instructional materials, a help desk, student support, instructor access, a library, and assessment practice. Also, it is worthwhile to look at the elearner’s resource base, not just in terms of family and economic support, but also in terms of software, infrastructure, access, and equipment. The authors conclude that in order to be successful, professors should “structure courses and course content to be sensitive to SOC and the management of stressor pile-up often experienced by college students” (p. 227). The authors also emphasize that it is important to give students “adaptive tools and stronger ‘I can do this’ attitudes” (p. 228).

Gobet, F. (2005) “Chunking models of expertise: implications for education.” Applied Cognitive Psychology, 19: 183–204 (2005).

The author of this study applies the concept of “chunking” to education in order to obtain new insights into the following questions: “What are the mechanisms of learning?” “What is the role of feedback in learning?” “How important is the order in which materials are presented?” This article explains that chunks are patterns, and they tend to be the cognitive short-cuts that experts use to be able to recognize key features of a problem using perceptual cues (the “professional eye”) and to maximize efficiency in problem identification and solving. The article presents a few findings about the best way to utilize the notion of “chunking” in order to optimize learning and to develop effective instructional strategies. They include the following: 1) teach from simple to complex; 2) move from the known to the unknown; 3) clearly identify elements to be learned; 4) focus on limited number of standard problems; 5) avoid distracters; 6) organize information in central filing system or database. In terms of elearning course design, the following ideas from the article could be extremely effective: 1) segment curriculum into natural components; 2) perform a task analysis and follow successful models; 3) make sure that the course includes opportunities to provide feedback. In short, chunking involves directing learner attention to important features. The article concludes by stating that a good teacher knows how to help students prioritize, organize, and identify key elements to the point that the students become adept at pattern recognition and thus can create their own schemata or “chunks.”

Anderson, M. (2007). Social networks and the cognitive motivation to realize network opportunities: a study of managers’ information gathering behaviors. Journal of organizational behavior. Accepted March 2007. In press.

The goal of this study was to look at how social networks on the Internet are being used in real-life situations to problem-solve and to gather information. The study also specifically looked at how Internet-based social networks are influencing organizational behavior. The study included 77 MBA students in an executive-level IT class in the year 2000 at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management. The following questions were asked: Question 1: Do network size and tie-strength lead to more information gathering? The actual network size was measured by the number of contacts. The effective network size was the number of members who actually knew each other. Question 2: Agency and motivation question: Do some people benefit more from social capital opportunities? The goal was to link personality and social networks. The study concluded that social networking can be a great way to gather information. However, there must be 1) sufficient motivation; 2) a clear goal in mind; 3) no redundancies. Further, it is important to keep in mind that “actionable knowledge” can be derived through social networks, and, when utilized in an efficient manner, can lead to immediate progress on a current assignment or project.

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