An Epistemological Framework for Analyzing Student Interactions in Computer-Medicated Communication Environments

By Pena-Shaff, Judith; Martin, Wendy et al. | Journal of Interactive Learning Research, Spring 2001 | Go to article overview

An Epistemological Framework for Analyzing Student Interactions in Computer-Medicated Communication Environments


Pena-Shaff, Judith, Martin, Wendy, Gay, Geraldine, Journal of Interactive Learning Research


As applications of computer-mediated communication (CMC) become more accepted for teaching, educators will need to understand the strengths and constraints of the diverse media that can support or impede learning and communication. The case study in this article examines communication patterns and learning processes of students who used two forms of mediated communication to discuss class topics: an asynchronous electronic bulletin board (BBS) and a synchronous text chat environment, Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Most of the discussions in the BBS environment were well structured and developed. However, very few students had what can be considered genuine interactions with peers. The postings on the BBS resembled private arguments and analyses about an issue posted to a public bulletin board. In contrast, the IRC discussions showed more collaboration, social interaction, and conflict. However, students spent more time socializing than focusing on the task at hand. Results suggest that the BBS may be a useful too l for promoting critical thinking skills and reflective thought, although strategies need to be designed to increase students' interactions. Environments such as chat, used for specific discussion tasks, may be a good forum for idea-generation and immediate feedback, but do not encourage reflective thought

New technological innovations always force one to evaluate how they may influence learning environments. Since their advent, computer technologies have been adapted not only to reinforce existing learning theories, but also to promote new approaches to learning. In recent years, educational research has focused on the use of computer-mediated communication (CMC)--human-to-human communication using computers and networks--for promoting a more collaborative or interactive approach to learning and providing environments that foster higher-order thinking skills.

The following case study analyzes the nature of participation, interaction, and meaning construction of students enrolled in an elective college course in Social Design of Communication Systems, which used two different CMC tools for communication and learning. On a regular basis, a web-based BBS was used to discuss class topics during the week. This CMC tool provided asynchronous communication (participants did not need to be online simultaneously to communicate with one another). The other CMC tool used was IRC, a synchronous, simultaneous computer conferencing tool that required all participants to be online at the same time. This CMC tool was used occasionally during class time. We were interested in examining how these communication tools could help understand and support the epistemological development of college students.

CMC in the Educational Context

CMC can augment classroom activities by providing spaces in which students can discuss their ideas with peers. Research has demonstrated that CMC in the teaching-learning process creates more flexible communication patterns (Berge & Collins, 1996; Heller & Kearsley, 1996; Ruberg, Moore, & Taylor, 1996). CMC allows students to interact with their instructors and peers in a time that is convenient for them (Berge & Collins, 1996; Heller & Kearsley, 1996; Ruberg, Moore & Taylor, 1996) and may increase student responsibility and self-discipline (Berge & Collins, 1996, Hsi & Hoadley, 1997). CMC can also equalize participation by masking social cues and cultural differences (Berge & Collins, 1996; Hsi & Hoadley, 1997). CMC also provides students with an opportunity to see different perspectives which may foster new meaning construction (Heller & Kearsley, 1996; Ruberg et al., 1996). The need to articulate one's arguments in CMC forces participants to put their thoughts into writing in a way that others can underst and (Koshmann, Kelson, Feltovich, & Barrows, 1996; Valacich, Dennis, & Connolly, 1994). This helps promote self-reflective dialogue as well as dialogue with others who read, react, and reply to the ideas posted by others, creating a forum for the creation of knowledge (Gay, Sturgill, Martin, & Huttenlocher, 1999; PenaPerez, 2000). …

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