Vicki Suter

Discovering the power of good questions

Community agency

A learning environment can create community agency (analogous to individual agency) by mediating collaboration. My dissertation research focused on virtual world design principles which would support the sense of presence, conceptualized as the result of an ongoing collaborative action-based process, a contextualized human experience of collaborative learning activity that evolves over time.

Some of the design principles I collected focus on the specialized attributes of a virtual world: travel interaction techniques, wayfinding, avatar identity. Others are relevant to any virtual learning environment, and include:

  • Support collaborative awareness by supporting construction and maintenance of common ground with other collaborators through action and activity awareness (Carroll et al., 2003; Carroll et al., 2006).
  • Provide built-in tools for collaborative work.
  • Provide different modes of collaborative experiential opportunities for the development of identity (e.g., scenarios, role-playing, simulation)
  • Provide multiple channels for setting and communicating socio-emotional context (Fabri et a., 2004)
  • Embody and sustain group activities and history with persistent objects (Robins, 2002).
  • Support situation awareness with workplace widgets for joint attention: What You See is What I See, or What You See is What I Do (Cottone & Mantovani, 2003
  • Embed “group awareness widgets” (Kreijns et al., 2002) in collaborative tasks.
  • Integrate access to collaboration resources and collaborative tools (Huxor, 1999) with communication tools.
  • Provide support for “communication zones” (Nardi et al., 2000, p. 86).
  • Provide integrated tools for synchronizing task-oriented collaborative activity through maintaining activity awareness; negotiating rules of engagement; establishing common objective, identifying actions necessary to achieve the objective, and negotiating changes in plans (Carroll et al., 2003, p. 611)

Instructor Role in Creating Collaborative Agency

To create the sense of collaborative agency, the role of the instructor is to set the “rules,” model the norms, provide real possibility of group action through authentic group projects,  ensure that teams negotiate team contracts, ensure that team grades have an individual performance component, create environment for generative dialogue, and provide tools for collaboration.


Carroll, J. M., Neale, D. C., Isenhour, P. L., Rosson, M. B., & McCrickard, D. S. (2003). Notification and awareness: Synchronizing task-oriented collaborative activity. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 58, 605–632.

Carroll, J. M., Rosson, M. B., Convertino, G., & Ganoe, C. H. (2006). Awareness and teamwork in computer-supported collaborations. Interacting with Computers, 18(1), 21–46.

Cottone, P., & Mantovani, G. (2003). Grounding “subjective views:” situation awareness and co-reference in distance learning. In G. Riva, F. Davide & W. A. IJsselsteijn (Eds.), Being there: Concepts, effects and measurements of user presence in synthetic environments (Vol. 5, pp. 249–260). Amsterdam, The Netherlands: IOS Press.

Fabri, M., Moore, D., & Hobbs, D. (2004). Mediating the expression of emotion in educational collaborative virtual environments: An experimental study. Virtual Reality, 7, 66–81.

Huxor, A. (1999). An active worlds interface to basic support for cooperative working (bscw) to enhance chance encounters. Virtual Reality, 4, 4–14. doi: 10.1007/BF01434990

Kreijns, K., Kirschner, P. A., & Jochems, W. (2002). The sociability of computer-supported collaborative learning environments. Educational Technology and Society, 5(1).

Nardi, B. A., Whittaker, S., & Bradner, E. (2000). Interaction and outeraction: Instant messaging in action. Proceedings of the 2000 ACM conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, pp.79–88. doi:

Robins, J. (2002). Affording a place: The role of persistent structures in social navigation. Information Research, 7(3), 1–31. Retrieved from        7-3/paper131.html

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