Group behavior – Would you like to go to the washroom together?
When I was studying in my primary school in Shanghai, it was very normal for some girl to invite me go to washroom together. Actually it was so normal that if a girl was not invited, it means she was not popular. We went to washroom together not because it was dangerous to go alone, but because it was ‘normal’ to go together. (I cannot speak for boys).
It is normal to be in a group. It is not normal to not to belong to one.
So it is normal to travel in groups and to have wedding in groups. These groups are informal. Mostly in each group, there is a leader who is not necessarily the most capable but usually who is the most considerate and connects well with everyone. Democracy exists in these groups. People discuss and agree upon things, then act collectively.
Group behavior in social media
The group behavior also demonstrates itself significantly in the world of social media. A combination of Facebook, Instagram, Paypal and Twitter, Wechat is the biggest social media in China. I use Facebook to connect with my friends outside China and Wechat with my friends in China.
On Facebook most my messages are based on a one-to-one relationship. The conversation happens between two persons – the counterpart and me. Meanwhile half of my Wechat messages are take place in groups. I have groups with people from my school, family and work community.
In cater to this group phenomenon, Wechat developed many useful features to including ‘Wechat Red Pocket’ . It is based on the tradition of red pocket for Chinese New Year, when money is wrapped in red envelop given to family and friends as a gift. ‘Wechat Red Pocket’ offers users the ability to send out virtual Wechat credit (linked to real money). The ‘grouped’ red pocket can be posted to a group chat and group members can click to get the credit (first come, first serve).
Root of group behavior explained
Chinese society has been fundamentally agriculture based. In south part of China, migrants arrived centuries earlier and settled in places with enough land to cultivate. That means many descendants could remain in the vicinity, making for a critical mass of nearby kinsmen. (Ebrey P., Cambridge Illustrated History China, 2010). During 16th century, lineages were already introducing elaborate systems to control, support and discipline members. Over time the institution of lineages weakened but its concept rooted in Chinese people’s minds. The natural concept of belong to a group (although it is not necessary to be based on kinship) becomes the soil of the tree to guide individual’s actions and thoughts.
The notion of lineages is not uncommon in western cultures. For example, in the TV show ‘Madman’ we saw the Campbell Macdonald fight. These two men got into a flight from their loyalty to their ancestral Scottish clans, defined by family names.
However two revolutions in Western history diluted the role of groups in people’s life. The Industrial Revolution stimulated trading and thus reduced the economic benefits to stay together. The Culture Revolution in 1960’s UK and US created youth culture and strengthened the culture of individualism.
Take a look at our classrooms!
But culture is too complicated to view using only one lens. The photo on the left shows how a typical class looks like in China. When we observe so much group behavior in social life and on social media, it is much less so in the classroom. In another word, the notion of group behavior, while permeating the social life and social media, has made little influence in the formal education system. Why?
For a long time in China’s ancient history the only way to achieve social mobility was to excel in the civil exam. To excel in the exam, one needed to recite accurately some most obscure paragraphs in selected books. Success of life hugely depended on a high stake exam. The exam required learning more through interaction with texts than through social emotion interaction with others. A famous student role model is a man who tired his hair on house beam so whenever he fell asleep while reading at midnight; the hair attached to the beam dragged his head up and woke him up. Key message – learning is lonely and hard.
In the Western research society of education, Lev Vygotsky’s ZPD theory gained its influence. People recognized learning and development through social and emotion interaction with others. The notion of learning with others and from others constituted the foundation of group learning.
Group behavior in online learning
We examined group behavior in social life and in classroom. How about group behavior in online learning? How about MOOCs when the division of formal and informal learning started to blur? How does group form, establish its power structure and culture? Are certain benefits of collaborative learning get lost or strengthened? I hope to address these questions in the following essays.
Sources of photos: