Learning and Teaching Online: Structuring Computer-Mediated Communication Systems to Support Interaction at a Distance

Wilson, Martina E. (2002). Learning and Teaching Online: Structuring Computer-Mediated Communication Systems to Support Interaction at a Distance. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000e80e


The aim of this thesis is to investigate the effects and benefits of different ways of structuring conferences in Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) environments for learning. To this end, the thesis uses two studies of a conventional distance learning course in undergraduate computer science which was supplemented with a structured CMC environment. The research was undertaken over a period of twenty months. Tile first theme of the thesis is an investigation of the possibilities of using conference structures to improve navigation and organisation. The second theme of the thesis investigates the likely benefits of such structuring. Categorical analysis was used to find out the extent to which this structure was beneficial to students. The effects and benefits of various CMC structures were assessed through analysis of data collected using a variety of techniques- observation, user opinions, and interpretation of naturally occurring online interactions. Categorical analysis was undertaken with rich data on actual behaviour obtained from online conferences and compared with students' perceptions gathered through open responses in interviews and questionnaires. The categorical analysis used an approach influenced by grounded theory. The pilot study revealed the need for a new staff role to support the structured CMC. This role, called the Interactive Media Facilitator (IMF), was created during the course of the study to design the CMC structure and monitor activity within the structure. A conceptual framework consisting of a three-dimensional taxonomy was created and used to guide the IMF in the development of the broad conference structure in the main study. The framework was also used to organise the fine detail of the different discussion areas within the CMC structure. This taxonomy, developed from elements of online interaction types found in the CMC literature, is a generalisable framework, applicable in a distance learning context to any electronically supplemented course.

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