When the Online Conversation is Prompted

When the Online Conversation is Prompted

Boyd H. Davis (University of North Carolina, Charlotte, USA), Mary K. Smith (University of North Carolina, Charlotte, USA) and Shu-Chiao Tsai (University of North Carolina, Charlotte, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-773-2.ch037
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Abstract

This discussion reviews discourse in three sets of data drawn from online forums for nursing, applied linguistics and nursing assistant courses. Findings are presented from the application of two measurement tools to postings attracting peer responses: SOLO, or Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (Biggs & Collis, 1982; Schrire, 2006; Rourke & Kanaka 2009) and the Practical Inquiry Model of Cognitive Presence (Garrison et al, 2000). Since assessment of online writing is an issue that often concerns teachers using asynchronous conferencing in blended classes, the authors also examine changes in propositional density using CPIDR (Covington, 2007) and analyze vocabulary levels with a Vocabulary Profiler to see how students integrate the appropriate technical and professional or academic lexicon that presumably has formed part of their learning.
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Introduction

Perspective and Objectives

This discussion explores the variety of task-oriented, prompted writings in asynchronous online forums that are part of blended or hybrid classes for students in nurse aide, nursing and applied linguistics programs. Our illustrations sample three sets of data drawn from online forums designed for each individual class:

  • Set A: A set of 100 brief evaluative commentaries by nursing students at a U.S. community college, predominantly first-language English, about an internet-delivered curriculum with multimedia on communication, collected across three semesters.

  • Set B: A set of 100 journal-like postings and peer responses by 50 students at a U.S. university, first- and second-language English, to readings about language experiences in a range of cultural settings, collected across three semesters.

  • Set C: A set of 100 journal-like postings by nurse aide students at U.S. community college, second-language English, on personal experiences in clinical settings, collected across three semesters.

Since all three of the datasets are focused on educational purposes for their respective courses, we first highlight current constructs of social and cognitive presence and critical thinking in online instruction. Secondly, we identify general features of postings that attracted additional responses by peers. Postings were seen as falling into three broad categories:

  • (1)

    those which were strongly content-based, and provided evaluative information at a particular level of cognitive skills or abstraction,

  • (2)

    those which seemed primarily to signal the writer’s desire to affiliate with another writer, via self-revealing comments or social commentary in the postings, and

  • (3)

    those which combined the two categories: that is, they were content-based and evaluative in orientation, and also included some degree of social presence.

Thirdly, we demonstrate the application of two measurement tools to postings attracting peer responses: SOLO, or Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes (Biggs & Collis, 1982; Schrire, 2006; Rourke & Kanaka 2009) and the Practical Inquiry Model of Cognitive Presence (Garrison et al, 2000). Since assessment of online writing is an issue that often concerns teachers using asynchronous conferencing in blended classes, we draw on two additional tools to examine changes in propositional density (using CPIDR, Covington, 2007) and to profile vocabulary levels (using VocabProfiler, www.lextutor.ca) to see how students integrate the appropriate technical and professional or academic lexicon that presumably has formed part of their learning.

Our goal is to extend understanding of the online discourse composed by adult and young adult online writers in prompted discussions and interactions that are required for classes. Our objective is to generate and analyze initial findings for our research question: Can empirical analysis of prompted writing in class-required online forums demonstrate that this writing supports critical thinking skills, improves fluency, extends content mastery, or enhances professionalization?

Key Terms in this Chapter

Cognitive Presence: In online environments, writers are said to need to feel a presence of others: social presence. Cognitive presence, as theorized by Garrison, Anderson and Archer, explains that online collaboration supports the way meaning is constructed.

Vocabulary profiler: a computer program that analyzes text to group words into categories by frequency of use and degree of technicality.

Critical Thinking: A hotly-debated term in discussions of learning, it most typically refers to how learners use reflection in making meaning and achieving more complex understandings of content of any kind.

Writing prompt: A question or statement which usually incorporates some feature of course content, and some notion of rhetorical situation, which asks the student to write a reply.

CPIDR: Computerized Propositional Idea Density Rater. A computer program that analyzes the propositional idea density of a text in English keyed to automated analysis of part-of-speech tags

SOLO: Structure of Observed Learning Outcomes, a taxonomy developed by Biggs et al to display how learners achieve levels of increased complexity and quality

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