Massive multiplayer online advice: Using forums to teach empathy in social professions
conference contributionposted on 17.04.2018, 15:18 by Cosima Rughinis, Bogdana Huma
In this paper we argue that online forums are a valuable resource for teaching and learning specific analytical skills required for empathetic understanding, especially for students in the social professions - such as sociology, social work, psychology, etc. Empathy refers to the capacity of understanding the situation of another person - that is, understanding his or her definition of the situation and the symbolic universe in which elements of the situation become meaningful and shape actions. This capacity is cultivated through daily social interaction, and it can also be trained in educational settings. Empathy can be improved through analytical skills, consisting in the capacity to identify core symbolic elements of a persons' situation and then to reconstruct her perspective. A key resource for cultivating the analytical skills required for empathetic understanding consists in the diversity of perspectives of multiple persons engaged in interaction on a common topic. Online forums for personal advice, such as Yahoo! Answers, offer this precious learning resource: they combine a strong diversity of perspectives with benefits of short, easy-to-read texts. Online forums present three additional learning advantages. As opposed to live interaction, which unfolds at a high speed, making conversationalists' moves invisible to an untrained eye, written discourses can be examined in detail, at one's own pace, thus being an excellent didactic material. Second, when posting on online forums, individuals often attempt to construct intelligible stories. Last, most discussion in forums have an adversarial construction, facilitating the observation of their rhetorical construction. In this paper we present a method for engaging students in online forums for personal advice with a structured learning agenda, in order to cultivate their abilities to make sense of the specific perspective of the person asking for advice, in light of variability in others' answers. Students learn to observe discursive alternatives in the construction of a problematic situation - such as marriage crises, health conditions, parental dilemmas. Students are also encouraged to formulate empathetic answers to persons who are asking for advice, and to reflect on the work of discursive articulation of multiple subjective worlds. We conclude by observing that online forums can be conceptualized as massive multiplayer online advice games - engaging anonymous participants in a communicative situation with specific stakes which are influenced both by the technological constitution of the forum (for example, rules for gaining higher status as a forum member) and by the anonymized, mediated, still highly personal social interaction.
This article has been supported by the research project "Sociological imagination and disciplinary orientation in applied social research", with the financial support of ANCS/UEFISCDI with grant no. PN-II-RU-TE-2011-3-0143, contract 14/28.10.2011.
- Social Sciences
- Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies