Meaningful Learning in Discussion Forums: Towards Discourse Analysis

By Saade, Raafat George; Huang, Qiong | Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology, Annual 2009 | Go to article overview

Meaningful Learning in Discussion Forums: Towards Discourse Analysis


Saade, Raafat George, Huang, Qiong, Issues in Informing Science & Information Technology


Introduction

Computer mediated communications (CMC) was and remains a driving force towards new forms of asynchronous discussion, which constitutes a significant and very important component in distance learning. Since 1998, analysis of asynchronous learning environments shows that computer conferencing accounts for 40% of the online environment and for 80% of what is described as 'learning with others' (Bourne, 1998, Schrire, 2006). Today, continuous learning is a vital matter. This is because our fast past world driven by the hyper-evolution of technologies necessitates the continuous learning of one's profession, upgrading new skills and making sense of our information overloaded everyday life. To that effect, we find ourselves a part of many networks that are essentially organizational forms and which are as of today, not the tried and true settings of yesteryear (Desanctis et al., 2003). Learning networks provide opportunities to seek, obtain, and provide information. Moreover, in learning networks, relationships among participants can be formed in a culturally diverse global environment facilitated by its inherent nature of operating across space and time. Many questions about the effectiveness of learning networks are raised. Can people effectively share information? Can they work together in this asynchronous virtual environment? Can their interactions result in enhanced understanding and develop insight? All these questions remain.

Online discussion forums (ODF) are a web-based application that has been used extensively to bring people together with shared interests and mind-set. In education, they have been deployed to complement traditional techniques such as lectures and tutorials (Dube et al., 2006, Yang et al., 2007). ODFs harmonize with the educational philosophy that considers communication a necessary and fundamental mechanism for effective learning (Harman & Koohang, 2005; Wallace, Jagose, & Gunn, 2003). It was found that learners' interaction with both human and inanimate objects, and their participation in technology mediated education, were essential for the quality of their learning experience, can enrich the process of knowledge exchange among participants and has positive effects on the student's performance (Keller, 1987; Leidner & Jarvenpaa, 1995; Zhang et al., 2006). Consequently ODFs can be successful in enhancing collaborative learning by attracting students to participate and interact (Swan et al., 2000).

Understanding the discourse that occurs in ODFs in the teaching-learning context requires some methodological approach to measure and analyze data and information and permitting for both analytical and holistic perspectives (Schrire, 2006). In this paper, we base our theoretical framework on Schrire (2006) who uses the qualitative study approach (Merriam, 2001). We report on our investigation of an ODF used as one learning component of a management of information systems course in a higher education institution. By performing a macro-level analysis of performance and interaction within the context of the course, it was possible to better understand whether learning did occur and holistic behavior of students. Based on the presented work, we continue our research in analyzing the ODF qualitative content by performing a fine grained discourse analysis.

Theoretical Framework

Discussion Forums & Discourse

Discussion forums (DF) were first introduced in the mid 1980s as a form of asynchronous electronic communication. Discussion forums are broadly used nowadays to connect people (globally) with the same interests in one virtual space. Most discussion forums are unstructured and open ended in function which serves as an outlet of ideas and thoughts of members. Discussion forums can be political, health related, educational, technical support, game related and in general a virtual place to share ideas and resources. By virtue of its nature, discussion forums are difficult to structure and to moderate. …

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