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Advanced Search Abstract Contemporary educators who view learning as interactive, discursive, and situated have argued that well-designed online conferencing environments may be particularly suited to provide the socio-cognitive support for learning seen as fundamental to constructivist pedagogies.
In order to assess the relationships between online course design, participants' interactions, and learning, a first step is to examine closely and describe the nature of online class participants' interactions within synchronous and asynchronous conferences. In this article, I address the role of interactive writing as an integral element in the conceptual development that takes place in such online courses.
I argue that the interactive textual environment of asynchronous online conferences is particularly facilitative of both social and cognitive construction of meaning because the nature of online interactive writing itself bootstraps the construction of meaning.
At the same time, pedagogies across the range of educational settings are changing to reflect understandings gained through the last half century of educational research into the nature of teaching and learning, the social and cultural contexts of classrooms, and the nature of knowledge and how it is valued.
The broad theoretical shift is towards constructivism, with central precepts that learning is interactive, discursive, and situated. In particular, there is a need to describe the nature of online class participants' interaction within synchronous and asynchronous conferences, and how it relates to their learning.
To date, most research on conferencing within computer-mediated learning environments has focused on higher education settings, especially as applied to distance education, rather than on elementary and secondary classrooms.
Some key findings have emerged from this body of research. Also, for the most part, the claim that interactive online courses democratize participation has been widely upheld Schallert et al.
These benefits of computer-mediated communication CMC via conferences have been well-summarized by Harasim Murphy and Collins speculated that synchronous conferencing may pose challenges for participants who speak English as a second language ESL and for poor typists.
Also, in a study with Canadian university students, Hancock and Dunham found that typing ability did not relate to shop effective academic writing 1 oxford levels of success in a barrier game simulation that involved solving tangrams, nor to the types of communication coordination strategies that participants employed.
Some researchers have reported gender differences in online interactions.
Selfe and Meyer found, in the asynchronous conference they studied, that traditional gender and power imbalances persisted in the online discourse; men and higher status participants contributed more and longer messages, initiated more new topics, and were more likely to disagree with others.
In Rovai's study, the female participants also demonstrated a higher degree of perceived classroom community than the males. Several researchers have found that the social aspects of the online learning environment are very important Meyer, The virtual classroom, especially when participants are at a distance and previously unknown to each other, creates an anonymity that is liberating, but that also can be disconcerting or alienating.
Class members can try out alternative points of view, or even identities, from the security of their side of the computer screen; only their words are visible.
In such online courses, these communicative strategies also function to establish coherence in the online discussion. On the whole, participants in CMC classrooms evaluate the experience as positive, look forward to conferencing, say that they spend a great deal of time preparing for and participating in asynchronous discussions, and describe the experience as helpful to their learning.
Although still preliminary in nature, such findings both corroborate the application of constructivist pedagogical principles, and guide recommendations for instructional design of online courses Feenberg, ; Harasim, ; Harasim, et al. Rovai suggests that the instructor has a responsibility to shape a course structure and online community that capitalizes on this medium's capacity to support collaborative learning.
Whittle and her colleagues call for instructional designs in which the curriculum objectives, instructional activities, and means of assessment are aligned in online courses, and which utilize threaded discussions in asynchronous conferences as the central course medium.
In order to guide instructional design, however, the relationships between online course design, interaction in computer-mediated conferences, and learning need further examination. In the remainder of this paper, I explore the idea that interactive, text-based webcourse designs have unique learning benefits.
In particular, I develop the argument that interactive writing is an integral element that promotes conceptual development in such online courses. Asynchronous Versus Synchronous Conferences Most of the research on CMC conferences in instructional contexts has focused on asynchronous conferencing.
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In asynchronous conferences, participants may log onto the course website at any time of the day or night, read the messages that others have posted to topics in the conference, and post their own messages to topics.
Additionally, they may choose not to read particular messages, or to proceed through in an idiosyncratic sequence. Thus, the adjacency constraint of spoken conversation is overcome, but with the possible consequence of decreased conversational coherence Herring, Typically, it is not visible to participants whether other classmates are logged on at the same time, nor which of the messages the others have opened read.
Presence is apparent only via the textual trace that a participant leaves by posting a message, which is labeled with the contributor's name, electronic address, and subject header; then date- and time-stamped, and added to the chronological record.
The asynchronous conference, then, consists of a chronological compilation of written messages that course participants have composed, along with the capacity to add incoming messages on a dynamic basis, and to enable users to sort, and, in some cases, also to search but see Turoff et al.
Yet, because the asynchronous medium relieves the conversationalists of the constraints of communicating in real time, there are some interesting consequences for the kinds of thinking, writing, and discursive interaction that take place in these types of courses, which I will address in detail in the sections to follow.
For example, some university instructors have employed a networked classroom in which class members, who are present in the room together, interact via synchronous conferencing as an adjunct to F2F seminars. Others have used synchronous conferences with students at a distance as an adjunct to videoconferencing or asynchronous conferencing, or as one component in multiple media distance courses.
In synchronous conferences, participants are all online at once and communicate with each other by reading and typing text in real time.
It is the textual equivalent of a teleconference. However, the use of written text rather than spoken language has interesting consequences for the quality of the conversation. In addition, the demands of interacting in real time influence the nature of the written text.The Purdue University Online Writing Lab serves writers from around the world and the Purdue University Writing Lab helps writers on Purdue's campus.
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