An Analysis of Temporal Norms in Online Discussions
Gibbs, William, Simpson, Linda D., Bernas, Ronan S., International Journal of Instructional Media
Despite all its strengths, our current educational system has a number of limitations, such as fixed learning times, compartmentalized and passive learning activities, and instruction that does not account for individual differences, preferences, and styles. These characteristics are problematical for learners in an information age (Reigeluth, 1995) who increasingly represent a set of diverse demographics. Many are older professionals with families who cannot become full-time residential students. At the same time, they need educational courses to stay current in their fields or prepare to enter new fields.
Creating and arranging instruction to meet learner needs is an important learning precept, as is actively engaging learners in the process. Engendering a sense of ownership and affording learners control over their own learning may help them think and learn autonomously (Driscoll, 2000). Some learning perspectives such as contructivitism assert that learners construct meaning and knowledge from their experiences (Jonassen, 2000; Doolittle, 1999) and not necessarily from a transmission of information from teacher to student. From the constructivist perspective, the learner is a key figure in determining what, when, and how learning takes place (Hannafin, 1992). Learners are not passive but active participants in defining learning needs and the solutions to those needs (Driscoll, 2000). This perspective contrasts sharply with many classroom practices whereby instructors lecture at fixed times, there is minimal interaction, and students are, for the most part, passive recipients of instruction. As Bork (1996) points out, in many traditional classrooms, there is little interaction and the teacher often assumes the role of authoritarian lecturer.
In an online learning environment, learners access content at times convenient to their schedules and study the materials at a pace and in a sequence that makes sense to them. They communicate and take part in class activities asynchronously with time to reflect on lesson topics. Palloff and Pratt (2001) indicate that asynchronous learning environments that permit learners, on their own time schedules, to thoughtfully review class content and discuss it with the instructor and peers, can enhance learning. Because online learning does not have the same time and geographic constraints as traditional courses, it affords individuals, previously unable to further their education, greater learning opportunities. In addition, James Dudestadt (1999) states that despite subject area, "... it is clear that most learners can learn and learn well using asynchronous learning (that is anytime, anyplace, anywhere education) (pp. 24-25).
Online learning may represent a departure from the lecture-dominated and instructor-centered mode of instruction that typifies traditional face-to-face classes. In many ways, the online learning environment shifts the focal point of instruction from instructor to learner. As Gustafson (2002, p. 21) points out, with learner-centered instruction, the learner is the focal point and "... there may be no initial assumption that a live teacher is even needed for the learner to achieve the stated objectives." Learner-centered educational environments hold much potential for improving student learning (Gustafson, 2002). However, while adapting instruction to meet learner needs is important, it poses challenges for instructors, such as scheduling class activities and coordinating the schedules of participants who may be located in different time zones. Given the proliferation of online courses and degree programs, it becomes increasingly relevant to observe the temporal behaviors of individuals who participate in asynchronous online classes.
Computer-Mediated Communications and Temporal Behaviors
An essential component of many online learning environments, Computer-Mediated Communications (CMC) represents a relatively new and emerging area of study in education (Hara, Bonk, & Angeli, 2000). …