Learning Processes during Online Discussions

Learning Processes during Online Discussions

Gaowei Chen (University of Hong Kong, China) and Ming Ming Chiu (Purdue University, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 11
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5888-2.ch248
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Background

While online discussions have several advantages over face-to-face discussions, it also has 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 out explicitly and stored. Furthermore, authors can organize online discussion messages to highlight their relationships to other messages via one or more threads and quotes of previous messages (Chiu & Chen, 2013). Some online discussion forums have interface designs that 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 will read the related messages together and facilitate their understanding of the messages’ content.

As a result of their greater permanence, online discussions are less constrained than face-to-face discussions by time or geography. Whereas face-to-face discussants must be in the same place at the same time, online discussants can review the relevant information or post messages at any time from any location.

Moreover, the greater permanence of online discussions also allow more time between responses compared to face-to-face discussions, especially during asynchronous discussions (Hew et al., 2010). During face-to-face discussions, people are responding in real time to a waiting listener(s) and are less likely to edit their responses. In contrast, posting asynchronous, online discussion messages have much weaker time constraints, so the participants can potentially 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.

Online discussions also have some relative disadvantages compared to face-to-face discussions. For example, the lack of nonverbal facial expressions and social cues in online discussions can lead to misunderstandings among participants (Walther, Loh, & Granka, 2005). Also, the greater time flexibility and less immediacy of multi-threaded discussion mode raises the likelihood of unresponsive messages (Hewitt, 2005; Thomas, 2002), off-topic messages (Pena-Shaff, Martin, & Gay, 2001), and lower efficiency when making group decisions (Baltes, Dickson, Sherman, Bauer, & LaGanke, 2002).

Key Terms in this Chapter

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

Online Discussion Topic: A topic or problem that initiates a discussion and visually groups the reply messages.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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