The discussions presented herein emerged from two empirical studies in progress:“Online Learning Communities in the Realm of Complexity” and “The Complexity of Learning Environments” in the Graduate Program in Applied Linguistics at Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil. One of the major pillars of both studies centers around Complexity Theory. Initially arising from the natural sciences, Complexity Theory has been gaining ground in the comprehension of human and social sciences. This chapter presents some ideas regarding the role of social presence in both blended and online learning environments, in line with the Community of Inquiry Framework (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000). Moreover, the authors hope to contribute to a better understanding of patterns that emerge from social interactions as well as of the ideas embedded in learning communities as complex systems.
Complexity And Applied Linguistics: Transdiciplinary Dialogs
At first glance, complexity is a phenomenon that encompasses a great quantity of interactions and interference among its agents. For Morin (1990), complexity effectively includes the interweaving of events, actions, interactions, retroactions, determinations, and random events that constitute our world, full of phenomena.
Complexity has its place in science due to research that has attempted to explain questions which challenge all conventional categories (Waldrop, 1992). Davis and Sumara (2006, p. ix) argue that “complexity thinking has captured the attention of many researchers whose studies reach across traditional boundaries.” Examples of phenomena under investigation in the education arena include:
How do social collectives work? The assumption that the actions and potentialities of social groups are sums of individual capacities has been challenged as it is becoming more evident that collectives can exceed the summed capacity of their members. What might this mean for classrooms, school boards, communities, and so on?
What is the role of emergent technologies in shaping personalities and possibilities? Children are able to integrate the latest technologies into their existences. What might this mean for formal education, in terms of the pragmatic activity and with regard to common understandings of the purposes of schooling?
In this direction, Complexity Theory in its transdisciplinary nature can assist in better understanding the events that take place in blended and online learning environments.
A complex system is dynamic, non-linear, open, and presents emergent properties. Moreover, this type of system is capable of adapting, which leads to self-organization, and ultimately to the emergence of new patterns and behaviors (Holland, 1997). An adaptive complex system is made up of agents who interact dynamically and adapt with one another as well as with the environment, as they seek mutual accommodation to optimize the benefits that will ensure their survival.
An ever-increasing number of articles over the past years have sought to analyze the second language acquisition process, as well as the language learning classroom in general, in the light of chaos and complexity theories (Cameron, 1999, 2004; Larsen-Freeman, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2006; Paiva, 2002, 2005a, 2006a, 2006b; Parreiras, 2005).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Interactive Responses: This category of social presence, in terms of Community of Inquiry, refers to communication behaviors that provide evidence that others are attending, such as continuing a thread, quoting from others messages, asking questions, or complimenting and expressing appreciation.
Cognitive Presence: Defined by Garrison et al. (2000) as “the extent to which the participants in any particular configuration of a community of inquiry are able to construct meaning through sustained communication.”
Cohesive Responses: This category encompasses communication behaviors that build and sustain a sense of group commitment, such as greetings and salutations, and group or personal reference.
Learning Community: “…dynamic whole that emerges when a group of people share common practices, are independent, make decisions jointly, identify themselves with something larger than the sum of their individual relationships, and make long-term commitments to the well being of the group” (Shaffer & Anundsen, 1993, as cited in Palloff & Pratt, 1999).
Social Presence: Concept defined by Garrison et al. (2000) as “the ability of learners to project themselves socially and emotionally in a community of inquiry.” Garrison (2006) expanded this notion, defining it as “the ability to project one’s self and establish purposeful relationships.”
Blended Learning: Refers to combining instructional modalities (or delivery media), combining instructional methods, and combining online and face-to-face instruction (Graham et al., 2003). This term has been used in the e-learning literature to refer specifically to educational experiences that combine face-to-face conversation classes with online classes, thus reducing the time spent inside a classroom. This interaction seeks to maximize the potential of both environments.
Teaching Presence: Involves designing and facilitating the educational experience (Garrison et al., 2000).
Affective Responses: This category of social presence, in terms of Community of Inquiry, involves personal expressions of emotions, use of humor, and self-disclosure.