Academic journal article Language, Learning & Technology

Exchanging Ideas with Peers in Network-Based Classrooms: An Aid or a Pain?

Academic journal article Language, Learning & Technology

Exchanging Ideas with Peers in Network-Based Classrooms: An Aid or a Pain?

Article excerpt


Computer-mediated communication can be a powerful tool towards literacy development as its text-based nature supports sustained reflection on classroom exchanges. This exploratory study examines the nature of peer exchanges in two partially network-based classes and the conflicts learners face in this situation where all information is text-based and archived. The classes combined computer-mediated and face-to-face elements in teaching content courses to students completing a BA in Contemporary English Language. This paper provides a picture of how learners used the available technology to interact with peers and their comment on how this mode of delivery extended their traditional notions of learning. Data include archives of discussions, learning logs, the tasks completed, responses provided, and student interviews conducted at the end. The data were inductively analyzed to find emerging themes following a reiterative process of substantiating and elaborating the themes. A variety of responses was evident where students were using situationally-relevant language to interact with and learn from each other. The data indicates that students develop a sense of personal accountability arising from the high visibility on the Web which was seen as unique yet threatening component of this mode. The paper evaluates the powers of the Web in terms of students' experiences and comments.


A massive outlay of resources is being channeled into electronic modes such as Web-based delivery in universities world wide and "there are many challenges facing policymakers, educators and students as 'traditional' universities 'virtualize' themselves through the new technologies" (Evans & Nation, 2000, p. 175). However, if practitioners are to determine "how to drive rather than be driven by" (Laurillard, 2000, p. 135) technology, we need to understand the effects of Web-based pedagogy from the perspective of the learners -- especially ESL learners. Given the central role of language in learning (see, e.g., Halliday, 1993; Wells, 1994), being active in interactive Web classrooms (used to mean partially or fully network based classrooms) may pose a tremendous challenge on ESL learners. Unless we know the demands posed by language, as ESL language educators, we cannot fully evaluate the pedagogic power of the electronic mode and plan a way forward.

In this paper, I will describe the quality of peer exchanges in two partially Web-based classrooms and then discuss the personal conflicts and pressures experienced by Cantonese speaking students completing BA degrees at a university in Hong Kong. The focus is on the collaborative learning and the conflicts arising from the implicit language and social demands imposed by computer-mediated communication (CMC). The paper analyses the discourse of the Web classroom and then draws on self-reported data to examine the ways in which learners evaluate and discuss their own participation and resultant learning. The purpose is to understand how ESL students make use of Web-based classroom experience by looking at network-based classroom discourse and examine the ways in which this use is perceived by participants as an aid to learning.



Many educators place dialogue at the center of the process of teaching and learning (e.g. Laurillard, 1993; Ramsden, 1992). Laurillard, for example, believes that technologies have a rightful place in higher education if they incorporate a critical dialogic element (p. 98). The increasing recognition of the place of dialogue arises from recent theoretical perspectives within the general literature on educational knowledge (see, e.g., Kafai & Resnick, 1996 ) where we find an increasing belief that all learning is fundamentally a social process, the result of interaction between two or more individuals and their contexts (see Kafai & Resnick, 1996, for a thorough discussion of constructionism within the technological context). …

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