Discussion Processes in Online Forums

Discussion Processes in Online Forums

Gaowei Chen (The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong) and Ming M. Chiu (The Education University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong)
Copyright: © 2018 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2255-3.ch693
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Online discussions' information transparency, communication flexibility and opportunities for reflection, can enhance information processing, higher order thinking and learning. Many group processes influence online discussants' creation of correct, new ideas (micro-creativity) and use of social cues. New ideas, justifications, disagreements and questions in recent messages facilitate micro-creativity. Moreover, new ideas and justifications tend to reduce both positive and negative social cues during online discussions. While agreements elicit positive social cues, disagreements invite negative ones. Meanwhile, participants with more past posts than others often show more micro-creativity. Together, these mechanisms show how sequences of online messages create a local context that influences participants' correct outcomes and social relationships. By understanding these discussion processes, designers can improve online forum interfaces, and educators can help students participate, cooperate and learn in online forums more effectively.
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While online discussions have several advantages over face-to-face discussions, they also have some drawbacks. Online discussions’ advantages include information transparency, communication flexibility and reflection opportunities. As online messages are explicit, relatively permanent and organized, they are more transparent than face-to-face talk. Online messages are written explicitly and stored, so group members and teachers/facilitators can access them later. Furthermore, authors can organize online discussion messages to highlight their relationships to other messages by responding along a specific thread or via quotes of previous messages (Chiu & Chen, 2013). The interface designs of some online discussion forums constrain each message to respond to a single previous message, which helps establish clear connections and avoid ambiguous relationships among messages. Readers who heed these explicit relationships can read the related messages in the authors’ preferred sequence, which can facilitate their understanding of the messages’ content.

As a result of their greater permanence, online discussions offer greater communication flexibility across time and space compared to face-to-face discussions. Face-to-face discussants must be in the same place at the same time to engage in a shared conversation. In contrast, synchronous online discussants can communicated with one another from any location. In asynchronous forums, participants can review the relevant information or post messages at any time from any location.

Moreover, the greater permanence of online discussions also allows participants to take more time to reflect before responding, in comparison to face-to-face discussions, especially during asynchronous discussions (Hew, Cheung, & Ng, 2010). During face-to-face discussions, people respond in real time to one another, so they are less likely to spend much time editing their responses. In contrast, posting asynchronous, online discussion messages on a permanent online forum provides convenient access to participants, so they can spend minutes, hours, even days gathering more information from other sources, contemplating their relationships, and evaluating competing claims and justifications before writing a suitable response.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Relationship: The relationship between two or more participants during an online discussion, as indicated by their use of social cues.

Negative Social Cue: A discussant’s expressed negative affective state or negative attitude toward others.

Multi-Threaded Discussion: A discussion in which messages proceed along multiple threads.

Online Discussion Topic: A topic or problem that initiates a discussion.

Online Discussion Message: The content that an online discussant posts at a time.

Online Discussion: A discussion in which a group of participants exchanging ideas by posting messages on an electronic medium (e.g., online forum).

Positive Social Cue: A discussant’s expressed positive affective state or positive attitude toward others.

Topic Initiator: A discussant who initiates the current online discussion topic.

Micro-Creativity: An idea that is both correct (consistent with both subject content and problem constraints) and new relative to a discussion.

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