Proceedings of CSCL '99

By International Conference on Computer Support for Collaborative Learning | Go to book overview
One practical impediment to the implementation of the aforementioned strategies concerns the computation of the growth probabilities. The values displayed in Table 5 were calculated using 7 graduate distance education conferences. While these values may serve as a reasonable starting point for some applications, they are inadequate in two respects:
1. The shape of the probability curves will be affected by the number of course participants, the course requirements, and the resulting activity level. A course containing 100 people who participate daily will require different probability curves than a course containing 4 people who participate once a week.
2. Making users aware of the growth probabilities may give rise to new behaviors that make the posted probabilities inaccurate. For example, people may start ignoring threads that have low scores. Such behavior would further reduce the odds of these threads surviving. In general, the display of probabilities may change student practices, resulting in the reduction or amplification of the actual probabilities.
Solving the above problems requires the development of dynamic, adaptive algorithms that continually tailor the growth probabilities to the conditions of the course and the behavior of the participants. We have not yet developed such an algorithm, but we are investigating the possibility of using participant reading and writing patterns to progressively fine-tune probabilities.
Conclusions
The lifecycle of a thread is only partially evident to users of computer conferencing environments. The birth of a thread is an obvious event, but it is impossible to determine if a thread has died until after the conference draws to a close. At that point, one can look back and identify the date that the thread stopped growing (i.e., the date of the last contribution to the thread). However, while the conference is still in progress, the status of all threads is uncertain. A particular discussion may already be as large as it is destined to become, or it may develop further in the coming days and weeks. Consequently, there is always ambiguity concerning the fate of any particular thread.In this paper, we examine the day-by-day evolution of 1521 threads in seven distance education courses. The following observations were made:
1. Most of the threads are small. Over 80% of the threads contain four notes or fewer.
2. Notes acquire most of their responses in the first few days after they are initially posted to the conference. The odds of a response drops dramatically with time.
3. The longer that a thread has been inactive, the greater the chances that the thread will remain inactive until the end of the conference.
4. The probability of a thread's growth is related to the thread's size. Probabilities increase with thread size until the thread contains five notes. Subsequent growth yields slightly reduced probabilities.

Using the above findings, it may be feasible to develop algorithms that dynamically compute growth probabilities and make them available to online learners. Such supports would allow conference participants to more easily determine whether a particular discussion is likely to develop further, or whether it has already run its course. Such systems could alert authors when important threads appear to be dying. These kinds of interventions would likely result in new learner behaviors - behaviors that will change the probabilities that underlie the interventions. Therefore, it may be necessary to develop algorithms that continually adapt to match the changing patterns of communal discourse.


Acknowledgements:

Our thanks to Marlene Scardamalia and Carl Bereiter of the CSILE project. We'd also like to recognize both Jud Burtis and Clare Brett for their assistance with this study. Research support was provided by the TeleLearning Network of Centres of Excellence and the Imperial Oil Centre for Science, Mathematics and Technology Education.


Bibliography

Brett, C., Woodruff, E., and Nason, R. ( 1999). Online community: What can reading and writing patterns tell us about participation? Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Montreal Canada.

Guzdial, M. ( 1997). Information ecology of collaborations in educational settings: Influences of tool. In the proceedings of the Computer Support for Collaborative Learning conference, CSCL'97, Toronto Canada, 83-90.

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