E-Collaboration between People and Technological Boundary Objects: A New Learning Partnership in Knowledge Construction

E-Collaboration between People and Technological Boundary Objects: A New Learning Partnership in Knowledge Construction

Sandra Y. Okita (Columbia University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-937-8.ch007
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Computerized instruction has become more common over the years. Students can now learn from computerized images of people in virtual environments. A new learning partnership can develop with a Technological Boundary Object (TBO) that simultaneously belongs to mutually exclusive categories. The TBOs may have human-like appearance and behavior that naturally elicit a social response. As learning environments become more human-like, should TBOs maintain a boundary-like state or aim for perfect human mimicry? The challenges to high fidelity seem to outweigh the benefits. Three common categories in TBOs: animate and inanimate, real and virtual, and self and other, are exemplified through empirical studies. The findings draw attention to the different learning partnerships that can be developed with TBOs and their future potential.
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Technological Boundary Objects (Tbo)

The term “Boundary Object” was originally introduced by Susan L. Star and James R. Griesemer (1989). Boundary objects referred to ideas that serve as an interface across different communities of practice. For example, “affordance” in ecological psychology (Gibson, 1977, 1979) means all action possibilities of the environment for a specific organism. In Human-Computer Interaction (Norman, 1988), the concept of “affordance” is relational, and refers to perceived action possibilities such as “to suggest” or “to invite”. People in the two communities can use the word “affordance” to communicate, despite the different theoretical commitments hidden behind the term.

Here, the term “boundary object” is used differently. Boundary objects refer to artifacts that simultaneously belong to mutually exclusive categories. For example, Frankenstein belongs to categories of both alive and dead. Boundary objects often elicit strong responses that bewilder the beliefs in them. People acknowledge quite easily that Frankenstein and Werewolf are fictional, or that what they see “is only a movie”, but they continue to be afraid of the idea. Similarly, visiting Disney’s haunted mansion, or watching a vampire movie, generates affective responses regardless of one’s beliefs. Many combinations of categories trigger similar responses that elicit primitive reactions, often fear, despite people’s beliefs. Ideally, technology should be able to design and create boundary objects that capitalize on their atypical cognitive status but are geared toward learning, not fear.

Technological Boundary Objects (TBO) are subsets of boundary objects. TBOs involve technological devices such as computers and robots. For example, a robotic dog is a machine that can take on similar forms and motions as a real dog. Therefore, the robotic dog resides in categories of both animal and machine. TBOs can be “physically real” like humanoid robots, or “virtually real”, like a game character in the computer. Most TBOs are interactive, which increases their potential for engagement.

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