The Bystander Effect: a Lens for Understanding Patterns of Participation

A number of studies have shown that students are often more willing to participate in educational conversations online than in the classroom. However, other studies have shown that online environments have poor student participationWhy is this the case? What causes participation to vary from one environment to another? To explore these phenomena, we borrow a concept from social psychology, the bystander effect, which explains why individuals are less likely to help in an emergency if others are present. Although the bystander effect specifically applies to helping behavior in emergency situations, we use this construct as a lens through which to view nonemergency situations such as educational environments. The bystander effect has 4 key components: self-awareness, social cues, blockingmechanisms, and diffuse responsibility. Focusing on these mechanisms can help us more fully characterize participation patterns observed in different educational environments and leverage this knowledge in the design of such systems.We present a case study of two students in both classroom and online French learning environments and show how the psychological mechanisms of the bystander effect help us understand observed behavioral changes.


James M. Hudson, Amy S. Bruckman


Hudson, James M. and Amy S. Bruckman (2004). "The Bystander Effect: a Lens for Understanding Patterns of Participation." Journal of the Learning Sciences 13:2, pp. 165-195.


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