Let’s Enhance Learners’ Cultural Discussions: Developing a Community of Inquiry in a Blended Course

Let’s Enhance Learners’ Cultural Discussions: Developing a Community of Inquiry in a Blended Course

Ana Oskoz (University of Maryland, Baltimore County, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2110-7.ch013
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This chapter reports on a study that examined the construction of a community of inquiry in a blended, foreign language, undergraduate, lower-level course. Students’ asynchronous discussions were analyzed by applying the social presence coding scheme developed by Rourke, Anderson, Garrison, and Archer (2001), by Garrison, Anderson, and Archer’s (2001) practical inquiry model, and Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, and Archer’s (2001) teaching presence code. The results indicate that undergraduate students were able to create an environment that encouraged reflection and meaningful interactions in online discussions. The blended environment, however, promoted different types of social interactions than those previously found in exclusively online discussions, with a lower presence of cohesive and affective indicators. At the cognitive level, this study suggests that while maintaining restrained intervention, a more active instructor presence is needed for entry-level learners to move to a higher level of cognitive activity — one which allows them to integrate concepts and move beyond simple description of concepts and ideas. In terms of teaching presence, the initial instructional design allowed learners to engage in similar interactions to those developed specifically for the online medium; yet, the author also found that the instructor’s presence is required for the best educational outcomes.
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The use of asynchronous computer-mediated communication via particular discussion boards is a popular approach in the foreign language (FL) classroom (e.g. Abrams, 2001, 2003; Bauer, de Benedette, Furstenberg, Levet & Waryn, 2006; Kol & Schcolnik, 2008; Sengupta, 2001; Sotillo, 2000). The discussion board allows students to practice their use of grammatical constructions learned in class (Meskill & Anthony, 2007); to improve their linguistic and syntactic accuracy (Sotillo, 2000); and to develop their skills in academic discourse (Sengupta, 2001; Van Deusen-Scholl, Frei & Dixon, 2005) using appropriate academic vocabulary (Kol & Schcolnik, 2008). The online forums provide “a critical common space in which [to] share and verify hypotheses and points of view, to ask for help deciphering meanings of words and concepts, and to constantly negotiate meanings and interpretations” (Bauer et al., 2006, p. 35); they have been instrumental in enhancing students’ reflections on teaching educational practices (Arnold & Ducate, 2006; Arnold, Ducate, Lomicka & Lord, 2005; Celentin, 2007; Pawan, Paulus, Yalcin, & Chang, 2003; Shin, 2008), elaborating course content (Weasenforth, Biesenbach-Lucas, & Meloni, 2002), and enhancing students' cultural reflections (Bauer et. al, 2006; Wildner-Basset, 2005).

The asynchronous and public nature of the discussion board has direct instructional implications for student learning and interactions. The time lag between reading and posting in an online discussion provides “time to recognize connections, understand other's ideas, and develop a detailed response or posting” (Meyers, 2003, p. 60) by giving learners the opportunity to contribute outside material and experiences (Kol & Schcolnik, 2008), link ideas together and make relevant points (Arnold & Ducate, 2006; Kol & Schcolnik, 2008; Newman, Johnson, Cochrane, & Webb, 1996) in a way that is less possible in face-to-face interactions (Sengupta, 2001). Participating in electronic discussions engages students in explicit, constructive and thoughtful communication (Kol & Schcolnik, 2008), increases accountability (Sengupta, 2001) and enhances critical thinking (Newman et al., 1996; Newman, Webb & Cochrane, 1995).

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