Networking Learners Using Online Asynchronous Discussions

Networking Learners Using Online Asynchronous Discussions

Ashwini K. Datt (University of Auckland, New Zealand)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-0968-4.ch003
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Online asynchronous discussions (OADs) are a prospective tool for creating learning networks that can minimize transactional distance and humanize distance learning. Using it to support effective communication and interaction among learners in video-based distance courses requires special skills and consideration. This research evaluates the use of OADs in a second and third year sociology undergraduate video-broadcast course (VBC). Patterns of participation and interaction were examined using the network and content analysis tools to determine the effectiveness of OADs as a pedagogical strategy. The role of the teacher in establishing a learning network between on-campus and distance students was also investigated.
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The degree to which distance learning is effectively humanized depends on how educators address the transactional – rather than the geographical – distance. Transactional distance is the function of the complex interaction between teacher, learner and content, as depicted by the most researched theoretical framework in online learning, the Community of Inquiry model (Garrison, Anderson & Archer, 2001). An adapted version of the model is shown in Figure 1. Research has constantly highlighted that achieving an optimum level of one or a combination of these interactions is not straightforward.

Figure 1.

Factors that influence an online community of learning

Adapted from Garrison, (n.d., p. 14).

Despite the challenges of establishing effective interactions between teachers and distance learners, institutions are increasingly opening up their on-campus courses for flexible delivery. Video-based courses are one example through which small scale on-campus courses are simultaneously offered to masses of distance students (Evans & Hazelman, 2006; Hunter & Austin, 2004). Though video components are thought to exhibit teacher behaviors that can humanize online learning (Dringus, Snyder, & Terrell, 2010), purely online or face-to-face teaching strategies may not always work for VBCs (Hunter & Austin, 2004). Alternative forms of teaching presence and learner engagement need to be exploited to ensure equitable learning experiences for distance students.

Establishing dialogue at appropriate levels between learners is crucial in developing social presence and personalizing the distance learning experience (Dringus et al., 2010; Kop, 2011; Moore, 1993). Effective dialogues can embody caring thinking (Lipman, 1991) and are positive interactions that improve learners’ understanding of the content (Jonassen, Davidson, Collins, Campbell, & Haag, 1995; Laurillard, 2002; Moore, 1993; Swann, 2010). The presence of the teacher should guide learners into being active perceivers of knowledge, thus building their cognitive presence (Lehman, 2010). Peer networking strategies that foster student-student interactions show promise in increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of communication that can humanize the distance learning experience.

A major determinant of dialogue in the teaching-learning environment is communication – the motive for young people’s engagement with social technology (Moore, 1993; Schulmeister, 2010). It offers great possibilities for engagement in learning. Computer-mediated communication (CMC) such as OADs are the main means of encouraging dialogue and shared construction of knowledge in distance courses.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Interaction: Students and lecturer form a communication network by regularly reading and responding to each other’s messages mainly related to the course content.

Network: The sum total of all connections among the distance and on-campus students and between all students and the lecturer.

Participation: Students or lecturer indicate their presence on the discussion board by posting either social or course-related messages.

Content Analysis: An objective research technique used for the quantitative description of the manifest content in text-based communication.

Online Asynchronous Discussions (OADs): Computer supported text based discussions that do not require participants to be present online at any one time. This has also been referred to in literature as asynchronous learning networks.

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