Understanding Online Discourse Strategies for Knowledge Building Through Social Network Analysis

Understanding Online Discourse Strategies for Knowledge Building Through Social Network Analysis

Stefania Cucchiara (University of Bari, Italy), M. Beatrice Ligorio (University of Bari, Italy) and Nobuko Fujita (University of Windsor, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4426-7.ch003
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Assessing the development of students’ knowledge building discourse is difficult. It would be beneficial to have clear indicators of such discourse to understand if and how it is developing. The aim of this research is to identify indicators that can monitor how the knowledge building process develops during online discussions. In particular, we analyzed university students’ discourse in an online setting oriented to knowledge building. An innovative mixed-method analysis approach was used. First, a qualitative content analysis was conducted to detect students’ discussion strategies; second, an innovative version of Social Network Analysis (SNA), called Strategy Network Analysis was applied to analyze the relations among discursive strategies and to identify the most typical ones. Results showed that the most often used strategies in the knowledge process were “developing hypothesis” and “asking questions or problems of investigation.” These were also the most effective strategies together with “expressing agreement or disagreement.”
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Theoretical Background

Knowledge Building (KB) theory, pedagogy, and technology are attempts to reform education in a fundamental way to enculturate students into a knowledge creating culture (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2006). Knowledge Building is a socio-constructivist framework defined as “the production and continual improvement of valuable ideas for a community” (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2003, p. 1370).

According to KB, ideas are considered as real objects of inquiry and improvement (Scardamalia, 2002). This means that ideas can be revised, discussed, interconnected, corrected, and if necessary, replaced. This way of handling ideas represents a challenge to educate people to develop the capacity to create and innovate upon the knowledge of the community through the creation of new theories. Each contribution to the community is useful for creating a shared understanding and for giving ideas a life that goes beyond the transitory nature of the conversation. The developments in understanding a phenomenon or a theory produce conceptual artifacts that serve, in turn, to achieve further individual progress in a dynamic virtuous circle. This process will lead people to the advancement not only of their personal knowledge but also of the collective knowledge.

From this perspective, the difference between learning and KB becomes crucial. Learning is an internal psychological process that is not directly observable, results in lasting change of beliefs, attitudes and skills, and occurs as a result of experience; in contrast, KB is the result of the creation or modification of knowledge that depends on the active and collaborative participation in discussion, sharing, negotiation and integration of ideas (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 2003). Thus, in KB students should not only pursue a good individual performance, but also they should build and improve ideas that will be available and useful to the community. Individual learning is, however, functional for the advancement of knowledge in a community and, at the same time, it is a direct consequence of such advancement.

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