The Web Science Trust


Fayad, Francois and Lambotte, Francois (2009) LEARNERS’ COLLECTIVE SENSEMAKING OF CASE STUDIES IN VIRTUAL ENVIRONMENT. In: Proceedings of the WebSci'09: Society On-Line, 18-20 March 2009, Athens, Greece. (In Press)

[img] MS Word (preprint) - Repository staff only


The case method is a particular pedagogical approach used in medical, management and occasionally in certain fields of social sciences schools. It enables students to develop their skills in teamwork and in collaborative problem solving. The literature on this method focuses on the instrument from the teacher perspective or as a teaching strategy (Nendaz & Tekian: 1999, Kolodner & Guzdial: 2000, Ellet: 2007, Yilmaz: 2007, Lyons: 2008). It also addresses the cognitive implications of the technique looking at the mental models it produces (Kolodner & Guzdial: 2000, Lyons: 2008). It finally looks at the way it shapes students’ behaviors a posteriori (Lyons: 2008). Very little work examines how meaning is constructed by those who learn in this kind of pedagogical environments. We believe that the case method would gain to be studied from the perspective of the learners during the negotiations taking place in the problem solving. Indeed, research, as far as we know, does rarely focus on the way meaning is co-constructed by those participating to the collective work. This collective sense, however, seems to be central to the case method. Looking at the learners during the construction of sense, this research adopts a processual approach of group cooperative learning. In education, the case method refers to the use of case study to put students in the skin of practitioners, in a situation of decision-making or problem solving. "Through repeated personal analysis, discussion with others, definition of problem, identification of alternatives, statement of objectives and decision criteria, and choice of action plan for implementation, the student gains an opportunity to develop analytical and planning skills in a laboratory setting."(Leenders & Erskine: 1989 p.10) According Schön (1983; quoted by Weick: 1995), to define a problem, to identify alternatives, objectives and decision criteria, assumes a “sensemaking” to get there. The problems and solutions are not given; they are constructed from materials embedded in an equivocal situation. Making sense of the equivocal is problematic; it is to transform a problem by choosing the angle from which it was decided to approach it, in order to solve it. Hence, the definition of Leenders and Erskine cited above could be stated as follows: in the case study, through the sensemaking, students develop analytical and planning skills in an experimental context. Weick defines sensemaking as an ongoing retrospective development of plausible sense, through interactions in equivocal situations, focusing on selected cues in the environment, and which is anchored in the construction of individual’s identity (Weick: 1995). Unlike its conception in the cognitive paradigm, sense, according to Weick, is not frozen in the mental models or determined by any shared representation (Lorino: 2006). It can be a collective and an individual activity. In both cases, it is largely socially constructed. It is quite obvious in the collective as sense is made through interactions involving negotiations on the sense. It is also social when it is done through individual interpretations because they are grounded in identity which results from social interactions. Thus, students make sense collectively in the case method, but the literature rarely mentions it. Hence, this research raises the question: how do students make sense collectively working on a case? Empirically, we will study exchanges within groups of students composed of one subgroup in Montreal and the other in Brussels and working four months on a case illustrating problems of communication. The groups exchange exclusively via an e-learning platform housed in a Belgian university. The analysis will account for the influence of this online environment on the construction of collective sense among sub-groups which have no other way to interact and negotiate. For instance, we should be aware of the difficulty to the build trust in virtual teams (Jarvenpaa & Leidner: 1999; Paul & Reuben: 2004). As for the sensemaking, the multiple interpretations of equivocal technology (Bansler & Havn: 2006) but also of objectives, material, and the physical environment of each sub-group can be sources of misunderstanding communication breakdowns weakening the chances of creating a collective sense (Bjorn & Ngwenyama: 2008). From a theoretical point of view, this research intends to stimulate reflection on collective sensemaking in a virtual environment. From a practice point of view, this research hopes to provide a better understanding how users of the case method make sense and ultimately to participate in efforts to improve this technique.

Item Type:Conference or Workshop Item (Poster)
Uncontrolled Keywords:e-learning, collective sensemaking, case method, sensemaking, group cooperation
Subjects:Web Science Events > Web Science 2009
ID Code:192
Deposited By: W S T Administrator
Deposited On:24 Jan 2009 08:45
Last Modified:25 Oct 2011 16:11

Repository Staff Only: item control page

EPrints Logo
Web Science Repository is powered by EPrints 3 which is developed by the School of Electronics and Computer Science at the University of Southampton. More information and software credits.