Scholars in business, psychology, education, psychiatry have tried to understand face-to-face (F2F) group process since World War II (Poole, 1985; Gersick, 1988; Bales, 1951). The desire was to identify those characteristics and processes that could be facilitated for optimal performance. Research findings influenced how groups are facilitated today. Researchers now focus on studying online groups. Is the process the same? Some internet oriented scholars find online communication differs (MacDonald, 2002; McIsaac & Blocher, 1998). A variety of disciplines need to understand the online environment (Posey & Pintz, 2006; Kling & Courtright, 2003). Instructors need a better understanding of the online environment and how the student experience is impacted before designing the online educational process (Bolen, 2003;Molinari, 2004; Molinari, 2003;Vrasidas, 2002; Brown, 2001). A grounded theory approach was used to study the critical thinking in two online groups working on a collaborative project. The goal was to develop a preliminary theory for further empirical study.
Grounded theory (GT) was designed to meet the research needs of fast changing social conditions (Chenitz & Swanson, 1985). Grounded theory provides a suitable beginning for the role of social comments in online problem solving groups research due to the fast pace of social change on the internet. The methodology permits concepts to emerge from the data rather than subjecting the data to hypotheses (Strauss & Corbin, 1998).Traditional education focuses on information sharing, transfer and retention. . The advent of discussion boards and automated email software enables dialogue and online problem solving (Kenny, 2006). The question arises of how social exchanges work online? Do they serve similar or different purposes as they do in face-to-face groups?
Some problem-solving group theorists describe socially related dialogue as superfluous and detrimental to group goals (Poole & Holmes, 1995; Poole, 1983; 1981; Poole & Roth, 1989). While others like Hirokawa (1983) state social comments contribute to relationship development which influences product quality outcomes. Online educators are now studying the importance of social comments in order to better manage group process (Minasian-Batmanian, 2002)
The debate moved online as the constructivist school of instruction encourages increasing numbers of learning communities (Puntambaker, 2007; MacDonald, 2002). Group dialog produces more student engagement, activation of higher order thinking skills, and the development of social and team skills (Bos & Shami, 2006; Chebli, 2006; Brunt, 2005; Hlahane, Greeff, & duPlessis, 2006). The online group grows more popular as computer mediated conferencing develops (Lou, 2004; Curtis & Lawson, 2001).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Connection Theme: The central purpose of social communication consisting of links of closeness, understanding, or access.
Social Presence: the ability of learners to project themselves socially and affectively into a community of inquiry.
Ill-structured problems: Learning challenges of a complex nature with no one right answer.
Grounded theory: A qualitative research methodology
Social connection theory: Social process theory positing that individuals in online problem solving groups use revealing, tying and etiquette strategies to overcome emotional distance.