Study Group, Team, Community Guidelines for Interaction
Harvesting is the process of gathering portions of the online discussion into meaningful chunks. Over the days and weeks of a discussion, people are likely to contribute numerous comments on a single topic. When you harvest, you copy related comments from one or more locations inside the transcript, bring them together into a separate thread, give the thread a name, and then alert the group (or an interested subset of the group) to what you have created.
For example, early in an online discussion about the impact of technology on education for an anthropology class, someone mentions the controversy over the sale of classroom notes via the Internet. Someone else responds by describing a recent news article on the subject. A third person turns the conversation back to its original focus and the group moves on. Days or weeks later, a member of the group discovers that a friend is skipping class and instead relying on purchased notes. Suddenly everyone has a similar story or a piece of advice. Strong opinions follow. Eventually, however, the conversation moves on again, but not before one member of the group has remembered the original exchange about the news article, located it in the transcript, and harvested all the related messages. Now the group has a separate transcript around an important aspect of its overall topic.
Harvesting deepens the discussion. It highlights tangential but important interactions, helps identify points of agreement and disagreement, supplies a unifying interpretation of the dialogue, and gives the group both a sense of accomplishment and a better idea of where they are going next.
A harvested message may end with a suggestion for further discussion of unresolved issues, or it may explicitly signal the end of that topic and call for moving on to a new one. Anyone in an online group may harvestthe facilitator, a participant assigned to act as the facilitator, or any participant who wants to synthesize his or her own progress on a particular issue or topic.
Weaving goes a big step beyond harvesting. A harvest is Joe’s comment plus Sally’s comment plus Matilda’s comment. A weaving is all this plus a commentary. The difference between the two is like the difference between a collection of essays and an anthology, in that an anthologist builds on the essays, grouping them together in a meaningful way, pointing out their common themes, adding new thoughts to the mix. Thus, weaving in an asynchronous online discussion is the activity of seeing patterns, reporting them, and using them to build connections among people and ideas.
The process requires that the weaver take time to get to know other participants’ interests, opinions, and preferences; read their biographical notes; remember some of their stories or ideas; and perhaps even carry on private conversations in email or a chat room to supplement the harvest. When you bring two or more participants together based on an observed pattern, and when you gather together a set of related comments and present them to the group in an organized and focused form, that’s weaving.
A weaver knows the pleasure of thinking, “Aha! Look at that! And how about this too?” In short, weaving is fun for the weaver.
Here are some ways you may weave:
1. Send a private message to two or more participants pointing out their common interests or concerns, or how their contributions to the group have had similarities. Suggest that they pursue a discussion or project together for future presentation to the larger group.
2. Take the opposite approach by pointing out differences. Suggest a debate.
Numbers and Ideas
Weavings and harvests may be made up of ideas (qualitative) or numbers (quantitative).
In a qualitative harvest, ideas are organized, summarized, and combined to reinforce their meaning or add meaning to that which was already present. In a quantitative harvest, ideas or themes are identified and then counted. To track quantitative data, consider keeping a note book in which you jot down topics as they emerge in the discussion and add a check mark every time the topic comes up again. At the end of the group’s time together, you will have a rough idea of how often a topic arose. Alternatively, you may print out messages and manually identify the topics you are looking for. Or, you may save the transcript to disk and count the occurrences of keywords or concepts using the search function of your word processor.
Below is an example of a combined weaving and harvest, with both quantitative and qualitative components. This is taken from a FutureU online module on “Personal Mastery” attended by 55 participants:
Last week, this question was asked: "When you attempt to solve problems, meet challenges, or develop opportunities, are you aware of your inner voice? Is it supportive or critical?" In response to this question, 22 participants generated 49 individual messages, for an average of 2.2 messages each. The range was from 1 to 13 messages. Of the 22 participants, all but one said they were definitely aware of their own inner voice. Five said that voice was neither supportive nor critical. Another five said it was both. Three reported it as only positive. Eight were not sure which it was. Five volunteered that they were always sorry if they ignored their inner voice. From the variation in description, it seemed likely that some of you were describing more than one voice. The three words most often used to describe the various voices were "intuition," "emotion," and "intellect." Several of you said that your inner voices usually arose in response to challenges or opportunities. You reported that if you listened to the inner voice you almost always learned something, whether or not the event was later seen by others as a success. Thus, the inner voice might be perceived as a guide or teacher. A few of you speculated that there could be danger in giving credence to your "emotional" inner voice. Others disagreed as to whether intuition or intellect were the more valuable voice. For example, on the intellect side, one person wrote "I have learned that my decisions are better after a night's sleep. If I act in haste, I do not necessarily make bad decisions, but if I give it more thought time, I make better decisions." Two of you said your inner voices presented you with questions to use as a guide for how and when to act in emotionally challenging times. These were: First Person "1. What is the healthiest way to view this situation? "2. Where is the evidence to prove that what I am thinking or what I should have done is true?" Second Person "1. Will this matter 6 months from now? "2. Can I do anything about it? "If either answer is no, let it go. "If they're both yes, it's time to dig deep."
It’s not hard to imagine how much easier harvesting and weaving can be if the messages are posted in an appropriate thread under a subject heading that accurately reflects the contents. Many more nuggets could have been harvested and many more tapestries woven from the 50-page transcript of this week-long online discussion. But the example above should give you some ideas for your own online groups.
Online instructors may lower their own workload and provide participants with a powerful learning experience by teaching them how to harvest and weave, then rotating the responsibility around the group. Keep in mind, however, that these processes take attention; unless they are part of a group project, they are best left to those who are willing to invest the necessary time. If you do enjoy harvesting and weaving, don’t get carried away and try to squeeze every last bit of meaning from every conversation; that can seem forced. Usually, a simple pointer will suffice to give your instructor and fellow students their own “Aha!”