An online discussion forum is an environment on the World Wide Web for holding discussions, or the Web application software used to enable these discussions. Web-based forums, which date from the mid 1990’s, are also commonly referred to as Web forums, message boards, discussion boards, discussion forums, discussion groups, and bulletin boards. Similar to other elements of the early World Wide Web, online discussion groups were built around common interests, with participants self-selecting membership in a particular online community. These early discussion groups focused on technical aspects of online environments, early self-referential and technical discussions related to the nature, construction, and maintenance of the World Wide Web itself. The content of these early discussions was determined by the nature of these early adopters. As use of the Internet gradually permeated society, the use and content of online discussions evolved as well. A principal area of interest in the current use of online discussion groups is in education. While corporations and other business forms make use of online forums, the evolving and increasing integration of online discussions into educative efforts, enhanced by the proliferation of online education, makes education the area most impacted by this relatively recent development in communication. As Nonnecke and Preece (1999) have described, research in electronic discussion groups has focused on a number of areas, including the nature of online communities (Wellman, 1997), the development of friendship (Park & Floyd, 1996), the role of empathy in group discussions (Preece, 1998), and the differences between men and women (Roberts, 1998). Additional work has been done on specific kinds on online communities, for example, therapy (King, 1994), education (Hiltz, 1993), business (Sproull & Keisler, 1986), and health support (Preece & Ghozati, 1998).
Key Terms in this Chapter
Synchronous Communication: An immediate interaction in real time, as in a face-to-face meeting, telephone call, or computer-facilitated discussion using cameras, microphones, and/or speakers.
Lurkers: A member of the computer-mediated discussion who reads materials on the message board, newsgroup, chat room, file sharing, or other interactive system, but seldom offers any contributions.
Asynchronous Communication: A delayed interaction, a form of computer-mediated communication (CMC) that supports information exchange and group interactions through a variety of electronic communication tools such as electronic mail (e-mail), bulletin boards, class listservs, and online discussion forums. This model enables the participant to communicate at different times with the aid of technological mediation.
Equitable Communication: Evidence in an online discussion group, usually in an educational setting, of reasonably equal participation by all members.
Online Discussion Forum: An environment on the World Wide Web for holding discussions, or the Web application software used to enable these discussions.
Information Overload: The result of the amount of information, and the additional information to which participants are guided by links to other material that can be overwhelming.
Discussion Groups: Also called bulletin boards or newsgroups , participants post messages on a news server which stores them in directories. Users participate in discussion groups by reading and responding as they choose to messages. In an educational context, discussion groups are used in a variety of ways: as a place for social interaction between learners and instructors, as a platform for cognitive discourse between course participants relating to course content, and a mailbox for course deliverables.
Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC): Forms of communication made possible through the use of computers: e-mail, instant messaging, Web-conferencing, and other Web-based forms of communication.