Threaded Discussion

Threaded Discussion

Karen Swan (Kent State University, USA)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 9
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch312
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Abstract

Threaded discussion is a kind of computer-mediated communication (CMC). Specifically, it is an online dialog or conversation that takes the form of a series of linked messages organized topically. Threaded discussions are text-based and asynchronous; they develop over time as participants separated in time and space read and reply to existing messages. Messages in a given thread share a common topic and are linked to each other in the order of their creation. Threaded discussions are particularly useful in online venues where multiple discussions develop at the same time. Without them, discussion participants would confront a chaotic, unsorted list of messages on many different topics. By linking responses to messages within a common subject line, threaded discussion makes it easier for participants to focus on one conversation and avoid the distractions of unrelated postings.
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Introduction

Threaded discussion is a kind of computer-mediated communication (CMC). Specifically, it is an online dialog or conversation that takes the form of a series of linked messages organized topically. Threaded discussions are text-based and asynchronous; they develop over time as participants separated in time and space read and reply to existing messages. Messages in a given thread share a common topic and are linked to each other in the order of their creation. Threaded discussions are particularly useful in online venues where multiple discussions develop at the same time. Without them, discussion participants would confront a chaotic, unsorted list of messages on many different topics. By linking responses to messages within a common subject line, threaded discussion makes it easier for participants to focus on one conversation and avoid the distractions of unrelated postings.

Threaded discussions are also significantly different from face-to-face discussions. All students have a voice in threaded discussion and no one can dominate the conversation, not even the instructor. Accordingly, many educators note that students perceive online discussion as more equitable and democratic than traditional classroom discussions (Eastmond, 1995; Harasim, 1990; Levin, Kim & Riel, 1990). In addition, threaded discussion affords participants the opportunity to reflect on their classmates’ contributions while creating their own, and on their own writing before posting them, creating a certain mindfulness among students and a culture of reflection in an online course (Garrison, 2003; Hiltz, 1994; Poole, 2000). Finally, despite the fact that it is lacking in visual and verbal cues, most participants find threaded discussion strangely personal (Gunawardena & Zittle, 1997); indeed Joe Walther (1994) has called it “hyperpersonal.” One way to think about threaded discussion is to conceptualize it within a framework adapted from the work of several seminal theorists of online learning.

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Background

We begin with MichaelMoore (1989) who identified three kinds of interactions that support online learning -- interaction with course content, interaction with instructors, and interaction with classmates. Interaction with content refers to learners’ interaction with the knowledge, skills and attitudes being studied. Interaction with instructors includes the myriad ways instructors teach, guide, correct, and support learners. Interaction with classmates refers to interactions among learners, such as through debate, collaboration, discussion, and peer review. In 1994, Hillman, Willis, and Gunawardena noted the importance of a fourth type of interaction, interaction with interface, which they defined as the interaction that takes place between a student and the technology used to mediate distance education processes.

In 1999, Garrison, Anderson, and Archer developed their Community of Inquiry Model which situated learning in threaded discussion at the intersection of three kinds of “presence” manifested within them. Cognitive presence is the extent to which participants are able to construct meaning through sustained communication. Teaching presence includes subject matter expertise, the design and management of learning, and the facilitation of active learning. Social presence is the perceived presence of others in mediated communication, which Garrison, et. al. contend, supports both cognitive and teaching presence through its ability to instigate, sustain, and support interaction. What Garrison, et. al.’s model added to Moore’s conceptualization is a functional approach focusing on the nature of interactions, and the notion of overlapping spheres of influence concerning them.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Social Presence: The perceived presence or salience of others in online discussion.

Interaction with Content: The learners’ interaction with the knowledge, skills and attitudes being studied.

Interaction with Classmates: Interactions among learners through debate, collaboration, discussion, peer review, as well as informal and incidental learning among classmates.

Teaching Presence: The design, facilitation and direction of cognitive and social processes for the purpose of realizing personally meaningful and educationally worthwhile outcomes.

Interaction with Instructors: The myriad ways in which instructors teach, guide, correct, and support their students by interacting with them.

Cognitive Presence: The extent to which discussion participants are able to construct meaning through sustained communication.

Threaded Discussion: An asynchronous online dialog or conversation that takes the form of a series of linked messages organized around a common subject or theme.

Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC): Communication that takes place through, or is facilitated by, computers. Examples include both asynchronous tools such as bulletin boards, e-mail, and threaded discussion and synchronous tools such as chat and video conferencing.

Virtual Learning Community: A community of people who come together online to learn a particular subject matter.

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