Sequences of Discourse in E-Learning Environments

Article excerpt


In this article we describe the research we have carried out aimed at contributing conceptual and methodological tools to help in understanding better how online teaching and learning works. We develop a qualitative analysis of asynchronous forum of several e-learning courses identifying sequences or moves of teaching discourse.


The new forms of online communication involving telematic (the integrated use of telecommunications and informatics, also known as the science of sending, receiving and storing information via telecommunication devices) are a great challenge when conceptualizing what has traditionally been understood as communication in education. One of the most prolific topics in the recent literature on communication in the educational context concerns the instructional use of the new technologies. It is therefore not surprising that a review of the specialized bibliography reveals many references to the concept of computer-mediated communication.

Blanton, Moorman, and Traten (1998) proposed organizing the forms of communication in virtual environments, differentiating between convergent and divergent situations, depending on the interpretations of the users. Starting from that work, Shotsberger (2001) analyzed synchronous dialogues in chat rooms by applying various categories: statement, beliefs, concerns, practice, wishes, intention, query, and result.

There have been recent attempts to go beyond the mere description of the messages in forums of asynchronous communication, conceiving them as an opportunity to promote knowledge and learning. The landmark work of Henry (1992) propounds that asynchronous communication can be analyzed from five dimensions: participative, social, interactive, cognitive, and metacognitive. Later, we will look at her contribution in detail.

Davis and Brewer (1997) have focused their interest on the analysis of electronic discourse. For them, "electronic discourse is one form of interactive electronic communication. In the study we reserve the term for the two-directional texts in which one person using a keyboard, writes language that appears on the sender monitor and is transmitted to the monitor of a recipient, who responds by keyboard. The recipient may actually be an individual, or a group, large or small, of receivers" (p.1). Electronic discourse is complex and has multiple facets. The authors choose to work from the field of discourse analysis for two reasons: because the different levels of discourse analysis allow textual analysis, and because discourse analysis is intrinsically multidisciplinary in nature.

The term electronic discourse centers on the way people use language to exchange ideas, rather than on the medium they use. The analysis performed is not that of conversation, because discourse analysis is asynchronous, with an immediacy in retroaction and response that sometimes, as we have already indicated, may be restrictive. There is a time-lag in interaction between the sending of a text and its response. Electronic discourse also differs from face-to-face communication in the to- and -fro, since interruptions and overlaps are not possible. In electronic discourse, interactivity has two poles: that of the message sender and that of the respondent.

One of the findings of the work of Schrire (2002) was to illustrate that the typical pattern of Initiation-Response-Reaction, so frequent in face-to-face interaction, is not the norm in asynchronous contexts, and that when it does occur, the third exchange is more probably between students than between students and teacher.

Gunawardena and others (1997) used a theoretical approach to develop a model for analyzing transcriptions of online discussion forums. Through an analysis of content, they developed a system to analyze knowledge building in social interaction, identifying five phases in the evolution of online discourse. …


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