Master of Arts in Educational Technology (OMET) Pepperdine University  
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Journal Entry - Nine [posted Tuesday,October 28, 2008]

A Relational View of Information Seeking and Learning in Social Networks by Borgatti, S. P., & Cross, R.

When I read through this paper, I realized that the authors’ study was a near perfect match for my action research project. Borgatti and Cross proposed a formal model of seeking information (from another person) as a function of, 1) knowing what that person knows, 2) valuing what that person knows, 3) being able to gain timely access to that person’s thinking, and 4) that it would not be too costly a procedure. The idea of collectively solving complex tasks implies having the ability to leverage the expertise of others in an accurate and timely fashion.

These three functions are addressed by some of the other articles that I have read and confirm that I am on the right path. “Knowing what someone knows” will hopefully either come with time or will be part of my screening process for potential members.

A scenario:
Judy is an expert in MS Excel and has indicated that on a questionnaire, survey or application for membership. Brian would therefore know ahead of time to ask Judy a question he has about and Excel issue (function 1). Or Brian has used Judy several times before knowing and valuing the help he has received from her in the past (function 2). Judy seems to make herself available whenever Brian Skypes her with a question (function 3). And it only takes a matter of a few minutes for Judy (since she is an expert in MS Excel) to solve Brian’s problem therefore saving the company money in the long run (function 4).

The author’s point out that accessibility is a major factor in peer support groups. Someone can be an expert in a specific area but if they are consistently unavailable to be of assistance—they are useless. The authors bring up a very valid concern; the ability of the “actor” (person who needs help) doesn’t know how to frame the question in order to ask for help. Another major concern, is building trust. Admitting that someone doesn’t know something and has to ask for help, or are called on for assistance and do not have the answer, can be embarrassing and might lower self-esteem.

Some of these issues will be resolved over time as participants become comfortable with each other. The concept of norms of reciprocity hopefully provide for an even exchange of sharing knowledge. A “skill-profiling system” will provide a knowledge base of “who knows what” which will aid in knowing who to direct a question to.

The dependent variable, in this research study, was information seeking while the independent variables were: knowing, valuing, access and cost. I am not clear yet if the variables in my action research project will correspond to those in this study. The geographic areas are similar in that the researchers included four different regions, and my project will be at WestEd offices located in various regions nationwide. Although this sounds unimportant, it was an important element of their study—physical proximity. As learned in other similar articles and reiterated again in this one, face-to-face interactions (“strong ties”) are generally important, but alternative methods of sharing information using distributed technologies can foster relationships and strengthen “weak ties” as well.