Online Student Discussions for Social Construction of Knowledge and Dialogue: A Review of Research

Online Student Discussions for Social Construction of Knowledge and Dialogue: A Review of Research

Johnny B. Allred (University of Arkansas, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0246-4.ch020


Digital tools and practices are becoming more integral to what happens in classrooms at all levels, so it is helpful to examine how teachers and students are utilizing technology during literacy practices. This chapter presents a review of research regarding instructional practices and classroom environments that cultivate purposeful use of technology for literacy development. Specifically, this chapter investigates aspects of online conversations that promote social construction of knowledge, reflective dialogue, and increased reading comprehension; it also provides insights for educators who seek to enhance or transform the structure of their students' online conversations about assigned readings. This review of research is guided by the following research questions: (a) What are the general affordances of online discussions? (b) What types of comments are students making in such discussions? and (c) What are the observed effects of online discussions on reading comprehension?
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Online discussions that contain elements of social construction of knowledge can be viewed through the lens of sociocultural learning theory. Central to this theory is Vygotsky’s (1978) research asserting that knowledge is socially constructed, especially through language, and that we gain and develop literacy by participating in literacy-rich environments that include interactions with more knowledgeable others, such as teachers, parents, or peers. Additionally, Vygotsky posits that cognitive growth “is more likely when one is required to explain, elaborate, or defend one’s position to others, as well as to oneself” (p. 158). This supports the idea that a group of learners produces outcomes that are above and beyond what any individual student in the group could achieve on their own (Murphy, Wilkinson, Soter, Hennessey, & Alexander, 2009). The current chapter uses the term social construction of knowledge to describe this type of sociocultural learning process.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Construction of Knowledge: A process for learning based on sociocultural principles in which leaners deepen their understandings of a topic through social interaction, dialogue, negotiation of ideas, or other collaborative activities.

Reading Comprehension: The level of understanding a reader takes from a text, through the construction and organization of thoughts and from interactions among the reader, text, and learning activity.

Dialogue: Conversations among learners, teachers, and texts that include multiple perspectives and in which comments build upon previous ones in productive ways.

Reading Motivation: The level of internal desire to read, driven by the learner’s beliefs and goals related to reading, which impacts the interactions with and ultimate learning from the text.

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