Computer Mediated Communication: Online Instruction and Interactivity

By Lavooy, Maria J.; Newlin, Michael H. | Journal of Interactive Learning Research, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

Computer Mediated Communication: Online Instruction and Interactivity


Lavooy, Maria J., Newlin, Michael H., Journal of Interactive Learning Research


A major concern for many educators appears to be that there is an inherent reduction in the type and level of interaction between the instructor and students in web-based and web-enhanced courses. This assumption, however, does not appear to be based on any empirical, experiential, or significant anecdotal evidence. In fact, this view entirely ignores a fundamental aspect of web instruction: Computer Mediated Communication (CMC). In our experience, the effective use of CMC has resulted in an increase, not a decrease, in student-student and instructor-student interactivity.

In this article we explore the different forms and potential applications of CMC for web-based and web-enhanced courses. Further, based on our experiences with three different web courses (Research Methods in Psychology, Statistical Methods in Psychology and Basic Learning Processes) taught repeatedly over the last five years, we address the effectiveness of different CMC forms for attaining specific goals.

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Over the last 10 years, the World Wide Web (WWW or Web) and related technologies have developed and dramatically expanded. Not surprisingly, this expansion has impacted undergraduate and graduate education. Each year, more colleges and universities decide to provide entirely web-based or web-enhanced courses (Ewing-Taylor, 1999; King & Doerfert, 1996). As this trend continues, politicians and educators are voicing concern over the quality of online courses.

The Chronicle of Higher Education (Camevale, May 2000) reported that the Chairman of the House of Representatives science subcommittee on basic research (Rep. Nick Smith) expressed such concern when he stated that "students who take courses online don't interact as much as their peers in traditional courses, and that they may walk away with knowledge but not with an understanding of how to think for themselves" (p. 51). Educators voice similar concerns. David Noble (1997), cofounder of the National Coalition for Universities in the Public Interest, questions the implementation of technology with little regard for pedagogical issues. He is concerned that universities may develop and implement these programs "... at the risk of student and faculty alienation." Kearsley (1998) suggested that the numerous computer programs that have been developed and used in schools don't allow students the kind of personal learning experience that individualized instruction does. Sherry (1996) suggested that online courses, while accessible, contain far less dialogue than traditional classes. As demonstrated by these comments, interactivity is a key concern for many when considering web instruction. The underlying assumption appears to be that there is an inherent reduction in the type and level of interaction between the instructor and students in web-based and web-enhanced courses. This assumption, however, does not appear to be based on any empirical, experiential, or significant anecdotal evidence. In fact, this view entirely ignores a fundamental aspect of web instruction: Computer Mediated Communication (CMC). In our experience, the effective use of CMC has resulted in an increase, not a decrease, in student-student and instructor-student interactivity.

While many may consider CMC solely as it relates to interactions between the instructor and students in a course, one must also broaden conceptualizations to encompass interactivity between and among students. Student-student interaction is especially crucial for the development of web-based learning communities that increase student learning (Dede & Kremer, 1999). Conveniently, the mechanisms for creating interactivity in web courses serve to increase both instructor-student and student-student interactions.

In this article we explore the different forms and potential applications of CMC for web-based and web-enhanced courses. Further, based on our experiences with three different web courses, Research Methods in Psychology, Statistical Methods in Psychology, and Basic Learning Processes, taught repeatedly over the last five years at a large, metropolitan, southern university, we address the effectiveness of different CMC forms for attaining specific goals. …

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