Online Collaborative Learning: Computer-Mediated Communication
I took this CMC course in Summer 2006 with Trena Paulus. It was really my first foray into learning theory, as well as into qualitative research. I had learned a little bit about constructivism prior to taking this course, but the courses to this point in my curriculum had really been more principally geared toward specific applications of technology.
In CMC, I pretty much had to do a lit review every week to really grasp the concepts we were discussing in class. We talked about discourse as a learning “space” and how knowledge is jointly constructed, and also how the field arrived at its current prevalent way of thinking – talking about Vygotsky, Piaget, etc. We discussed various venues for computer-based communication like chat or email, and how those tended to be used in discourse. We talked about an interaction analysis model proposed by Gunawardena, Lowe and Anderson in 1997, that said knowledge is constructed in five broad phases:
1. Sharing/Comparing of Information
2. The discovery and Exploration of Dissonance/Inconsistency among Ideas/Concepts/Statements
3. Negotiation of Meaning/Co-Construction of Knowledge
4. Testing/Modification of Proposed Synthesis/Co-Construction
5. Agreement Statement(s)/Applications of Newly Constructed Meaning
The course focused on qualitative research – analysis of interactions taking place in various forms of computer-aided communication. Is there evidence of all five phases of knowledge construction taking place during a talk in, say, a message board? In looking at varying forms of discourse, and codifying language in order to be able to make some assertions about it, we were able to gain some insight into how technology can help or hinder your efforts based on what you’re trying to do with it.
I decided to apply what I was learning to an environment I was very familiar with. I worked for the reference department at the university library for four years, and spent my Saturdays on the reference desk helping students with databases and research. There’s a formal process to a reference interview, and I noticed striking similarities between the reference interview process and the interaction analysis model proposed by Gunawardena, et. al. I wrote a paper exploring the possibility of using a message board as a sort of searchable repository of reference interviews, in order that patrons should be able to have an on-demand, asynchronous form of access to the expertise of reference librarians. That paper, Online Reference Interviews: Discussion Boards as an Asynchronous Medium for Facilitation of Inquiry and Learning, illustrates how a specific application or tool, like a reference interview and the medium we choose to conduct them in, has a backing in learning theory.