Peer Learning and Social Interactions in an Asynchronous Learning Environment

Peer Learning and Social Interactions in an Asynchronous Learning Environment

Angela T. Ragusa (Charles Sturt University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-368-5.ch017
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This chapter explores how Internet-based asynchronous communication forums utilized in teaching undergraduate courses affect social interactions and student satisfaction. Drawing from an analysis of qualitative data, such as student and teachers’ perceptions, this case study reveals four key factors that affect learner satisfaction; (1) trust of people and technology, (2) awareness of how technically-mediated interactions differ from face-to-face interactions, (3) peer-based learning opportunities, and 4) integration of relevant learning materials and opportunities for social engagement. The findings suggest that when asynchronous forums are used as the principle vehicle for communication and learning, students feel less socially isolated, report a sense of belonging, and positively evaluate learning outcomes. The case study identifies asynchronous electronic forums as an effective tool for peer learning and social interactions among upper-level distance education students in Australia.
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Social interactions exist and are understood from both lay and professional vantage points. In this section a sociological definition of social interactions is offered to inform and conceptualise the ensuing analysis of student-student and student-teacher interactions occurring in asynchronous subject forums. The present case study seeks to offer researchers, practitioners, and users theoretically grounded, yet concrete and tangible advice, on users’ and designers’ perceptions and experiences in a distance education environment. The research purpose is to inform users and planners of distance learning courses about asynchronous forums as communication, interaction and networking tools to facilitate learning and student engagement.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Network society: A term used to characterize the changes in a society brought about by the Internet communication technologies and in which individuals and groups organised around digital information networks.

Knowledge-Based Economy: A phrase used to describe economies in which information and knowledge hold greater contributing power to the economic welfare of nations than in industrial societies.

Asynchronous Forums: An Internet-based electronic communication environment, which permits users to post messages for some or all of the members to view. Messages remain posted until a forum moderator removes them. Asynchronous refers to the static nature of the environment. Postings are done one at a time, anonymously or not, and offer a written electronic record of the communications conducted.

Peer-Based Collaborative Learning: A teaching and learning strategy which places emphasis on group work and interactions among students in contrast to traditional teacher-centered learning.

Situated Knowledges: A view of social reality put forth by the feminist social philosopher, Sandra Harding, which argues that our social position in the world affects, and creates, the types of “knowledges” and worldviews we experience. In other words, what we think and believe is “socially situated” and socially constructed.

Social Interaction: The exchange of verbal and nonverbal communication in a society. Within the social sciences Symbolic Interactionism, stemming largely from the works of George Herbert Mead and Erving Goffman, is a theoretical tradition that studies the relationship between “self” and society.

Sub-Forum: An online communication environment that exists as a subset to a larger electronic forum.

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