Academic journal article Journal of Interactive Learning Research

Mapping Online Discussions with Lexical Scores

Academic journal article Journal of Interactive Learning Research

Mapping Online Discussions with Lexical Scores

Article excerpt

Successful online learning requires the full and fruitful participation of learners in group discussions. These collaborative forums provide the basis for devising shared goals, encouraging comments, using the semantics of the subject area, developing critical thinking skills, providing personal examples, asking questions, lending support to others, sharing responsibility for completion of assignments, and promoting feedback. This article examines online discussions using lexical scoring techniques. The theme of this article is that online conversations become more sophisticated as learners interact with each other over the duration of a course. A key assumption underlying this proposition is that collaboration among learners fosters the social construction of knowledge and that evidence of such knowledge-building activities is embodied in the tone of the group discussions.

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Online discussions are dynamic processes that develop over the life of a course. Knowledge is constructed in these collaborative conversations through the process of social negotiations among the discussions' participants. Therefore, recognizable advancements in social and cognitive skills should be evident in the content sophistication and the perspective-taking by the learners. Various authors characterize this collaborative learning process in different ways.

For instance, Jarvela and Hakkinen (2000) described the learning process in web-based discussions by using Selman's theory of social cognitive development. Selman (1980) studied the ontogenesis of interpersonal development among children. Cognition, according to Selman, develops through five stages of individual and social perspective-taking. At stage zero, the egocentric phase, the individual doesn't understand that others might interpret social actions differently than they do. Understanding that people have different motivations and views about events occur in stage one. In stage two the individual knows others have legitimate opinions but can't reflect on their own perspective and those of others at the same time. The individual recognizes two points of view simultaneously and realizes others can do the same in Selman's third stage of perspective-taking. Viewing events from the perspective of others and interpreting behaviors from a larger social perspective are stage four social role-taking traits. Jarvela and Hakkinen devised three levels of web-based discussion and social perspective-taking using Selman's framework. Lower-level discussion entailed each student's independent comments and unilateral expressions of opinion. Progression to the next level involved cross-references, reciprocity, and knowledge building through questions and answers. They referred to this level as the progressive discussion phase. Theory based conversations and new insights occurred in the deeper-level discussion stage. Jarvela and Hakkinen discovered that perspective-taking, and by implication cognitive growth, among the students in their sample was low.

Palloff and Pratt (1999) discussed cognitive growth in the context of the creation and nurturing of online learning communities. Theirs is a "how-to" book but it provides several important ideas about the evolution of online learning through group discussions. They saw ultimate or transformative learning as a self-reflective process that developed through several phases as a student progressed in an online course. As defined by Mezirow (1991), transformative learning occurred when learners reflect on, interpret, and reinterpret experiences, ideas, and assumptions gained through earlier learning. Palloff and Pratt generalized Mezirow's ideas to devise a theory of evolving online discussion and collaborative learning. For the online learner the inception of group discussion in a new course poses what Mezirow referred to as disorienting dilemmas and psychic distortions. Learners start to question their use of knowledge and their belief system in the context of the online discussion. …

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