Developing Conversations: Supporting Learning with a Group Support System

Developing Conversations: Supporting Learning with a Group Support System

Martin Read (University of Portsmouth, Portsmouth, UK), Tony Gear (University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham, UK) and Sam Groves (University of South Wales, Pontypridd, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/ijqaete.2014010105
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This paper explores the process of supporting learning through the use of a ‘low impact' Group Support System (GSS) based on handset technology. The protocol used is described and a conceptual framework is proposed with which to explain practice. The framework centres on the encouragement of conversation which is focused on the reasons for differences, coupled with a reduction of personal anxiety, achieved with the flexibility offered through the GSS meeting environment. A field-based case study in post graduate education is reported in detail, and a number of other field-based case studies are reported in summary. These serve to demonstrate the potential for suitably designed Group Support Systems to aid groups to overcome certain fundamental difficulties with which they have to contend.
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A broad spectrum of group decision (or process) support technologies (or systems) has been developed since the early 1980’s, which is referred to using the generic term Group Support System (GSS). These are information systems used to support the process by which a group of people meet and interact for learning and/or deciding type tasks. They are sometimes also known as Group Process Support Systems, Group Decision Support Systems, Electronic Meeting Systems, and Electronic Meeting Aids. They have been developed to alleviate the well-documented problems of groups such as conformity of group members, domination of the group by certain individuals, and the effects of miscommunication within the group.

There are a number of different types of GSS, including networked computer based GSS (e.g. Nunamaker et al., 1997; DeSanctis et al., 2008) and handset based GSS (e.g. Jones et al., 2006, Read et al., 2007). The objective of these systems are to improve the effectiveness of the group process and reduce negative effects of groups, including the pressure to conform, free riding of members, and domination of the group by one or more members (Nunamaker et al., 1991). Many GSS will share common characteristics (Finlay & Marples, 1992), including enhanced communication facilities between group participants, enhanced modelling and interface facilities to permit voting and ranking, and the availability of both qualitative and quantitative decision support tools, with which members are comfortable, which are transparent in operation, and which are flexible. Such systems may be designed to embrace features of group-based processes, including processes of information sharing, storage and retrieval, and also of learning (Wilson et al., 2007).

The majority of research into GSS has been based on computer networked systems and there has been limited research into GSS based on handset systems, known as keypad-GSS or k-GSS by Watson et al. (1994), when compared to GSS based on computer networks. Finlay and Marples (1991) identified handset based systems as being ideal for average size meetings and which can be easily carried from room to room. Watson and Bostrom (1991) identify two strengths of handset based GSS: their portability which enables them to be used in a wide number of settings, and the display of voting which is flexible and easy to use. Because of the less intrusive nature of handset based GSS on the group when compared to networked GSS, these systems are also known as ‘low impact’ GSS (see e.g. Read et al., 2012).

A number of trials of this type of low impact GSS have been carried out in classroom contexts (e.g. Gear and Read, 1993; Irving and Hunt, 1994; Jones et al., 2001, Banks, 2001, Groves et al., 2006). When used in a classroom, these systems can also sometimes be known as Audience Response Systems. Kay and LeSage (2009) have given a comprehensive review of teaching strategies in higher education that have been developed using Audience Response Systems, including general teaching strategies, motivational strategies, assessment strategies and learning based strategies.

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