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Week 4: Cooperation, Support, and Incentives

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B. I trust you've been well.

A. Well, I almost went blind staring at the screen last week.

B. [laughing] Good for you.

A. Toward what remote isle of knowledge will you be steering us today?

B. Glad you asked. You many have noticed a rather peculiar behavior as you dug through the USENET archive last week, which I want to explore further.

A. [slyly] Do you mean posting SPAM or posting pornography?

B. Very funny. I'm talking about the great lengths to which the authors of posts go to answer one another's questions, or provide some other kind of help. How many of those people do you think get paid to sit around all day and post messages to newsgroups?

A. None I guess.

B. Actually, in some of the groups there are people who sit and answer posts all day as a profession. However the percentage of people, overall, is probably on the order of 0.0001% or less. Practically no one.

A. And...

B. So what do you think motivates people to write and write and write to each other, answering questions, providing help, asking for clarification, coming back again and again? If you're not getting paid 40 hours a week to do it, it must be a fairly strong motivator since you're skipping movies, the pool, dance clubs, and everything else in the world to do it. For example, consider the amazing Larry Lippman . These are real people, with real lives, that are giving so much to all of us...

A. Well, it could be lots of things I suppose.

B. We all suppose a lot of things, but very little empirical work of a broad enough nature has been done that would allow us to make general statements about the answer to the "Why?" question.

A. [incredulously] I can't believe that no work at all has been done.

B. Eric Raymond gave one of the earliest, most detailed accounts in The Cathedral and the Bazaar . CatB (as it's called) is a first hand account of participating in an online volunteer group working to solve a particular sort of problem -- in this case, writing a very small piece of software. While it could be argued that Eric's conclulsions apply more to CSCW than CSCL , I believe they're critically important for us to understand. Be sure to read CatB first thing this week.

A. Why should we care? Why is it so critical for us to understand?

B. Just think about it for a minute as a designer of instruction. Why are these people so engaged? They're not being paid. They don't have grades or deadlines hanging over their heads. What is it that drives and motivates them? Is it something about the nature of the problem? If so, we could try to make the problems we give our students more like those problems in some way. Is it somehow the makeup of the group? If so, we could try to structure our student teams in such a way as to create these peer motivations. Is it the fact that the author knows there are real people with real needs waiting for information, so that the need is humanized somehow? The point is, if we better understood why people will write software and small books in reponse to each others' needs, we may be able to harness those principles to significantly improve the degree of engagement of our students.

A. [ponderously] Huh.

B. Peter Kollock, who was Marc Smith's advisor at UCLA (remember Marc's NETSCAN from last week?) wrote a really interesting paper on this topic as well - Managing the Virtual Commons: Cooperation and Conflict in Computer Communities . You'll want to read that this week, too.

A. Before you assign anymore readings, are we going to get to do some hands on stuff this week, too?

B. Sure. That brings us to this week's assignment.

Assignment: Thread Mini-analysis

  1. Surf back over to Google Groups
  2. Search the archive for a discussion thread in which a question is asked and a significant amount of time is spent by one or more people trying to answer it. The questions could be anything - from "Why doesn't my computer work?" to "What's the best egg substitute?" to "Where can I get a purse to match these shoes?" or anything.
  3. Post the following on your blog:
    • the URL to the thread so others can find it,
    • a brief thread summary, and then
    • carefully reread and analyze the thread. Write a few paragraphs describing what you believe motivates the responder(s) to participate in the discussion, based solely on things they say.

Check the Syllabus if you don't remember...

A. [cutting in] Yea, yea. So is this why you had us read those ethics things at the beginning of class? For this kind of mini-research report?

B. Exactly. There's little risk involved in this type of homework assignment, but its always good to be informed.

A. Ok. See you next week.

Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . admin. (2008, May 20). Week 4: Cooperation, Support, and Incentives. Retrieved January 07, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License
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