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M. Kanaris, J.M. Laffey

University of Missouri (UNITED STATES)
Our study of learners’ social interactions in the context of online social learning situates Castells’s (2001) network society thesis and networked sociality in relation to discourses and theories of social interactions and its correlative constructs sociability, identity, and social capital. Castells’s (2001) network society thesis, allows us:
(1) to organize learners’ social interactions as individual “living” social networks (Capra, 2004) of technology-mediated communication,
(2) to conceptualize learners’ social interactions as the flows within these networks
(3) facilitates our empirical study of trust and its related concepts as constituted in and through these technology-mediated social interaction flows.

Castells’s (2001) conceptualization of social relations organized as individual living social technological networks highlights the idea of a new type of sociability that is both individual and social as well as unceasingly creates and recreates social relations and constantly innovates the networks that comprise these social relations based on the needs and interests of the moment (Wittel, 2008). The living network not only has implications for how network members relate to each other (sociability), but also how they define themselves (identity), the value they perceive in these relations (social capital), and, for our study, what kinds of trust can be performed within these social interactions and how such trust may mediate the quality of learning for learners engaging in online social learning. We propose to use the motion chart, or dynamic bubble chart, as a visual metaphor for this type of living network—a network that consists of living bubbles constantly moving, constantly interacting, creating and recreating their identities and relationships as needed in the moment.

The social interactional and emergent nature of the living network construct complements the social constructivist learning theory that frames our study’s social learning lens and the epistemological assumptions that shape it. Specifically, that
(1) learning has a social dimension wherein “participants seek opportunities for private and open interactions in the learning environment that promote community and learning” (Schwier & Dykes, 2007, p. 160),
(2) learning involves the social construction of shared understandings,
(3) learning involves reshaping our “selves,” our identities, and our understandings of the world in which we live (Goldstein, 1981; Wenger, 1998).

This paper reports on the preliminary findings of a research study on reconceptualizing learners’ social interactions online from Castells’s lens of social interactions. The purpose of this study is to gain insights into how this lens may help us to understand learners' social interactions as far more fluid and transient which may have implications for collaborative learning online. I focus on the micro-sociological level-social interaction as the unit of study and take a qualitative interview approach from the learners’ perspective, which will help develop thick descriptions of learners' understandings of their online social interactions how they may shape their learning. I use the research findings of previous studies on social interactions to provide general guidelines, as sensitizing concepts, heuristic ideas, to point me in the 'directions along which to look' as I interview online social learners