Enhancing Scholarly Conversation Through an Online Learning Community

Enhancing Scholarly Conversation Through an Online Learning Community

Brian Thoms (Claremont Graduate University, USA), Nathan Garrett (Claremont Graduate University, USA) and Terry Ryan (Claremont Graduate University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-936-6.ch007
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This paper reports on action research (AR) that implements online learning community (OLC) software to foster conversation and community at a specific graduate school. Informed by theories of conversation, online learning, and social networking we incorporate Web 2.0 technologies in the creation of a user-centric OLC. A distinguishing feature of our software is that, rather than being centered on courses like traditional course management software (CMS), our software is oriented towards and controlled by individuals. Results indicate that stakeholders—graduate students and faculty—appreciate and find value in the OLC we implemented.
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The leaders of our school, a graduate school in the U.S., believe that its continued success depends on the existence of a vibrant intellectual conversation among its stakeholders—students, faculty, staff, and alumni. Unfortunately, recent trends (primarily a decrease in the presence of stakeholders on campus) have led to a reduction in the vitality of this essential conversation. To help foster and revive it, these same leaders have asked our research group to design and implement an information technology (IT)-based solution.

Our guiding philosophy has been to allow people to say what they want to say, to listen to what they want to listen to, to increase their understanding both of themselves and of their fellow community members, and to do it all without having to spend an increased amount of time on campus. To this end, we have implemented software designed to promote free expression of identity and ideas, by and between individuals. Our intent has not been to replace face-to-face interactions, but to supplement them with a persistent virtual component.

We believe that we have achieved a measure of success in improving scholarly conversation at our school and also in learning how conversation can be promoted by IT. This paper presents the nature of our school’s problem, what we did to design and implement a solution, the impact of the solution on our school and what we plan for the future.

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