CULTURAL DIMENSIONS IN COLLABORATIVE ASSESSMENT APPROACHES WITHIN A COMPUTER MEDIATED CONFERENCING LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

Jabulani Mabaso

INTRODUCTION

It has been suggested that teaching and learning should be viewed as a cooperative venture in which two or more people work together towards a common goal. Unfortunately, the capacity of most educators is often undermined by reliance on traditional methods of teaching and assessment. As a consequence learners tend to adopt a passive role in the learning process and thus encourage them to view learning as a solitary activity. This state of affairs promotes predominantly competitive than cooperative attitude towards learning. Educational reforms in most countries have however placed heavy emphasis on process-oriented hands-on learning. Collaborative assessment (i.e. self, peer and tutor assessment scheme) of learning approach is one such reform that has been researched as containing learning benefits for learners since it involves a hands-on learning for learners.

In this paper I seek to share the findings of the study that was conducted on collaborative assessment approaches in face-to-face higher education setting. I will then explore how technology (in the form of computer-mediated-conference- CMC) promises to encourage collaborative assessment of learning. I will then explore the possible cultural influences of learners on their behaviour during the collaborative assessment of learning.

THE CASE

The study on the use of a collaborative assessment of learning approach was conducted in a face-to-face MA Management and Organisational Learning course at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom.

The assessment structure is based on seven pieces of work: three seminar papers, a project and a dissertation. There are no examinations. The assessment system is consultative in that it takes into account the views of both the student and the tutor. The assessment process is structured as follows:

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According to the study conducted the learners identified many learning benefits that are associated with their use of the collaborative assessment scheme. They indicated both cognitive (approach to learning) and non-cognitive benefits. For instance;

Notwithstanding these learning gain-benefits, there were factors such as culture and educational background of learners that had influence on the way assessment was conducted by learners towards their colleagues’ assessable pieces of work or how they perceived feedback from their colleagues. Those whose educational background did not encourage peer criticism in public, felt vulnerable in this assessment environment which required ‘personal disclosure’ or public scrutiny. On the other hand those from the UK-based or Western educational background felt they had to accommodate the linguistic shortcomings of foreign students and their ‘unusual’ approach to academic writing. It is a well-researched fact that language and culture are an integral part of learning and development (Christie, 1985). The argument is based on the fact that doing well in a learning environment is "largely a language matter" because language enhances the capacity to interpret and manipulate the various patterns of discourse. If the patterns of the language, home and community systems that the learners bring into the learning setting are at variance with that of the dominant culture, then the receptivity of learners to the domain genres and patterns of discourse will become hindered. These findings could have serious implications in a country such as South Africa where there are two separate worldviews – the Eurocentric and Afrocentric worldviews. The latter which is characterised by emphasis on deference for authority and lack of support for self-disclosure and submission for public scrutiny.

Can a collaborative assessment scheme escape these problems when applied in a CMC environment?

THE BENEFITS OF CMC LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

According to Henri in Kaye (1992, p.120) CMC communication is efficient in that it allows for group interaction which is unhindered by time and space restriction. There is greater diversity of interpretations of facts because of the great information available within the group.The obvious pedagogical advantage of CMC is that learners are able to take time to ponder over points made and respond after careful consideration of several issues. It means slow talkers are able to structure their inputs under less pressure.

INCORPORATING CMC INTO COLLABORATIVE ASSESSMENT

McConnell in Kaye (1992) conducted a research on the MA Management Learning at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom on collaborative assessment practice which is mediated by computer conferencing.

What is clear from the findings is that the learning benefits were almost similar to those that were experienced by the residential learners, which I have refered to earlier. These are for instance;

All the above learning benefits are congruent with Henri’s in Kaye (1992) framework, which has five dimensions that are used in analysing the content of the discussion during learning or assessment of learning process in CMC communication. These are participative, social, interactive, cognitive and metacognitive. All these dimensions will be influenced by the educational and cultural backgrounds of the learners during and assessment process. As was noted earlier, self-disclosure and submission of self to analysis and criticism is anathema in other cultures, there is no stopping it from happening during collaborative assessment using CMC communication environment.

CONCLUSION

CMC is unable to escape the factors that positively or negatively influence participants during collaborative assessment processes. There are cultural dimensions that can arise when learners engage in collaborative assessment schemes because of their demand for self-analysis and self-disclosure. Any convincing learning technology that is applied for collaborative assessment purposes in South African distance learning context, will need to accommodate the different educational and cultures without any compromise on higher order skills required higher education.

BIBLIOGARPHY

Christie, F. (1985) Language and schooling. In S. Tchudi (ed.), Language, schooling and society. Upper Montclair,NJ: Boyton/Cook.

Henri, F. (1992). Computer Conferencing and Content Analysis. In A.R. Kaye (ed.), Collaborative Learning Through Computer Conferencing. Springer-Verlag. London.

McConnell, D. (1992). Computer Mediated Communication for Management Learning. In A.R. Kaye (ed.), Collaborative Learning Through Computer Conferencing. Springer-Verlag. London