Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

A Multivocal Approach in the Analysis of Online Dialogue in the Language-Focused Classroom in Higher Education

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

A Multivocal Approach in the Analysis of Online Dialogue in the Language-Focused Classroom in Higher Education

Article excerpt


How do we capture those critical moments where something changes, where someone "gets it," where someone throws out a comment that shifts the discourse?

(Pennycook, 2012, p. 132)

As technology-mediated communication (TMC) is increasingly becoming a part of our everyday lives (at least in the global North), we are endowed with the possibility of engaging in communication everywhere we go and with whoever we wish to, without worrying about logistical issues. While TMC is a gloss for communication in and through different kinds of texts, e.g., email and computer applications for videoconferencing, it has interesting implications when issues of how meaning is negotiated in online spaces are addressed. Being inside the virtual classroom and engaging in TMC to interact within a learning community implies that participants need to adjust to the media and artifacts that are dimensions of that space: "It is at the intersection between people's actions, the tools they use and the infrastructures that they have access to that new conditions for learning arise and where new practices emerge" (Bliss & Saljo, 1999, p. 7).

The concept of social learning analytics as developed by Buckingham Shum and Ferguson (2012) is a subset of learning analytics that focuses on the study of learning in the doing, i.e., group processes and the co-construction of knowledge. According to Buckingham Shum and Ferguson (2012), social learning analytics "should render learning processes visible and actionable at different scales: from national and international networks to small groups and individual learners" (p. 5). In addition, referring to the use of inscriptions and other kinds of technologies as tools that mediate thinking, Saljo (1999) argues that "[t]he mastery of mediational means is [...] an essential aspect in the process of learning" (p. 152) wherein a fundamental assumption is that "learning is always learning to do something with cultural tools" (p. 147).

Moreover, Hampel and Hauck (2006) highlight that affordances for participants are related to aspects of the use of "the most appropriate tools" among those offered in digital spaces and those that are best suited to the communication situation participants have at hand. Wertsch (1998) refers to a tension in the sociocultural continuum between agents and their mediational means because mastering the use of tools can both enable and constrain action. Mapping these tensions using the epistemological lenses of social learning analytics is a central interest in this study. In addition, given the ontological assumption in the present project of considering mediated action (i.e., agents and their cultural tools) as the fundamental unit of analysis, how can this element be conceptualized so that it makes sense and can be used to support learning analytics? I argue that a focus on dialogue and its sequentially in space and time is crucial for understanding the organization of interaction in online synchronous environments (see also Trausan-Matu & Rebedea, 2010; Dascalu, Trausan-Matu & Dessus, 2013). According to Chen and colleagues (Chen, Wise, Knight & Haugan Chen, 2016) there is a significant research gap in educational technology in the study of temporal dimensions of learning in the analysis of data that, in fact, stretch over time and could therefore afford the opportunities to support analytics that "could map the different dimensions of temporal analysis [...] to support researchers in interrogating and incorporating different approaches" (Chen et al., 2016, p. 1). The overarching aim of this exploratory paper is to provide some first insights in the ways in which several analytical scales in the study of synchronous TMC can be bridged by using a multivocal approach. An attempt to develop such a methodology is the response to the following analytical needs: (i) scaling up the analysis of technology-mediated action at micro-scale to larger data-sets so that it can be used to support learning analytics, and (ii) mapping the sociocultural continuum between agents and their mediational means in order to explore where and how learning opportunities emerge in the language focused virtual classroom, in terms of the kind of social and cognitive aspects that are enacted through the use of TMC. …

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