Blended learning communities: Relational and identity networks

Blended learning communities: Relational and identity networks

S. Annese (University of Bari, Italy), M. Traetta (University of Bari, Italy) and P. F. Spadaro (University of Bari, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-827-2.ch014
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Abstract

Blended learning communities are defined by specific learning and psychosocial processes based on the multilayered sense of belonging of the group’s members, related to the merging of both virtual and real interactive contexts. This chapter focuses on the psychosocial dynamics of blended communities, in order to identify some specific participation strategies and identity dynamics, which both vary with the double interactive context. We used a qualitative variant of Social Network Analysis to analyse the interactions of two blended student communities, identifying various participation trajectories and identity positionings of the group members. The results revealed that the blending of two communication contexts generates different psychosocial dynamics from those activated by the same community in a wholly on- or offline context. The combination of interactive environments results in participation strategies in which members can choose distinctive trajectories, shaping their original identity positionings.
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Introduction

The integration of computer mediated and face to face communication has been recently implemented in numerous educational and professional contexts to create blended learning communities (Bonk & Graham, 2006; Ligorio, Cacciamani & Cesareni, 2006; Ligorio & Sansone, 2009) that improve learning processes through participation, sustaining a sense of belonging and the subsequent identity construction process (Lave, 1991; Zucchermaglio, 2002).

This chapter focuses on these psychosocial dynamics, particularly on the idea that learning as a social process (Annese, 2005) accentuates the interweaving between psychosocial and psychoeducational conceptual frameworks.

From a sociocultural perspective, learning is an intersubjective process among individuals who co-participate in a meaningful, goal-directed interaction (Lave, 1993; Matusov, 2001; Wells, 1993). From this perspective, the identity construction process bridges social and individual aspects of learning, as it emerges from the development of a sense of belonging to the learning community (Wenger, 1998). Moreover, in blended learning activities, students’ self-perception is affected differently by the online and offline contexts (Spadaro & Ligorio, 2007).

A psychosocial approach to group dynamics helps in understanding the social norms, communicative networks, language structure and setting characteristics that make blended communities suitable for implementing effective learning processes.

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