Communication Dynamics Research Results

At the presentation of my paper, Communication dynamics: Discussion boards, weblogs and the development of communities of inquiry in online learning environments at ASCILITE 2004 I started off by doing a quick bit of research (see .ppt presentation here).

Basically I handed out blank sheets to the audience and asked them, in a minute per slide to write down bulleted answers. These were the questions:

Slide 1:

– Does your institution use an Online Learning Environment (OLE) aka LMS / CMS / VLE / LCMS etc. etc.?
– Which one(s)?
– How are teachers supposed to use it/them?

Slide 2:

– What asynchronous (i.e. not ‘real time’) communication tools do you have available in your OLE(s)?
– In your experience which ones are used and to what extent?

Slide 3:

– What would you like to achieve / see teachers achieve using these asynchronous tools?
– How’s that going?

I mentioned that by handing over your paper you would be agreeing for the results to be used in a piece on this blog and asked people to pop their email address at the top if they’d like me to notify them when I posted them. So welcome to those who are stopping by for the first time :o)

There were probably about 60-70 people there and I got 44 responses.

To the first question 43 out of 44 respondents use an OLE (the one who didn’t belonging to a Bureau).

To the second question (which had multiple answers) there were 19 instances of WebCT (Campus or Vista), 16 of Blackboard and 14 others (3 of them being Moodle)

To the third questions, “How are teachers supposed to use it/them?” the responses were as follows:

1. Online curricula format units with electronic discussion forum
2. ‘Expertly’ blended & flexible access
3. Each unit must have online presence, rest up to individuals
4. We’re completely online
5. Online communication
6. Dedicated instructional designers help
7. Ed designers in each school
8. Delivery, course organisation and pacing, content, resources, learning experiences, communication, support, web pages, blended / mixed –mode courses
9. Teachers encouraged to use to create collaborative virtual communities
10. Compulsory contact / usage between teachers and students
11. DIY with PD & support provided by units responsible for WebCT & BB, informational and supplementary mainly- moving towards fully online
12. Develop content, templates for unit info, notices, discussions
13. Pedagogically sound manner, many don’t know how to do this so it’s used as e-storage for enhancement (e.g. PPTS , web addresses- some use it for discussion
14. To provide flexible access to materials
15. Provide materials for students, links or documents & for interaction / discussion
16. Any way they like, guidance provided by WebCT managers which restrains their thinking
17. To complement and assist them in the learning process – they have the choice to use it as they please
18. Teachers supposed to use them in a range of ways – inspiring, innovative etc.
19. Individual autonomy – used for all units distance & on campus, forum discussions
20. Teaching small topics of whole courses, blended
21. –
22. As they choose (imaginatively)
23. Entirely as I have a fully online course, f2f just use it to post lecture notes and emails
24. Some develop their own sites and some are assisted. Most moderate discussions and upload content
25. –
26. No policy, a lot of variety / skill throughout the University
27. in accord with guidelines, institutional, teaching, QA etc.
28. Mostly used to supplement other modes (either f2f, broadcast lectures) – interaction – posted ppts
29. Focus on blended learning – significantly using as ‘filing cabinet’ & communication tool
30. The current policy id for academics to use them to support f2f teaching and students to use them to download notes and get info via discussions
31. Web based T&L materials and blended environments
32. Posting documents (e.g. PPT) for students, flexibility (up to lecturer / course
33. Community construction, interactive discussions
34. Support print based DL courses or teaching fully online courses
35. As an aid to f2f teaching, supplementary resources (all subjects on-campus)
36. –
37. All topics required to have a ‘web presence’
38. Material for students, lecture notes, tutorials, quizzes, discussion forums etc. flexible access
39. To support internally taught units and to enable external teaching online
40. Individual staff make a decision to use BB shell to create their course
41. Posting materials & ppts
42. Put courses online, resources, discussions
43. Information provision / task setting, facilitation
44. Primarily for web support

To the forth question, “What asynchronous (i.e. not ‘real time’) communication tools do you have available in your OLE(s)?” 40 responses indicated discussion boards / forums, 20 email (individual or group, 9 announcements and 16 others (including 3 mentions for weblogs and 3 for wikis).

The fifth question was a little patchy but generally indicated that email and discussion boards are primarily used.

To the sixth question, “What would you like to achieve / see teachers achieve using these asynchronous tools?” the responses were as follows:

1. High level of engagement / dialogue / sharing between students
2. Deep and reflective asynchronous discussion
3. Engage students, build communities, peer support, increase retention
4. Interactive, engagement > deep learning
5. Enhanced individual and collaborative learning
6. Already achieving good results
7. Encourage students to take the initiative to facilitate collaborative learning
8. Deeper levels of learning, high levels of engagement and online presence, sense of community and culture online, confidence in sharing ideas
9. create collaborative virtual communities
10. More interactivity, access to experts
11. Teachers engaging with learners: feedback, challenging their thinking, prompting reflection, synthesising, knowledge construction using dbs & groups
12. Student engagement & knowledge construction
13. Learning – interaction, social presence, collaboration esp. in Arab culture
14. Students build in their own understanding through sharing and discussions with others
15. Have all students participating
16. Decrease social distance, increase participation
17. Debates, choices without ‘cognitive interference’ of unwanted material that must be scanned first before it is realised that dates / times / names are not necessary to their understanding and intent of message
18. Develop higher order and critical thinking
19. Community development – blending internal and external students in a virtual classroom
20. –
21. –
22. Imaginative, radical teaching and learning
23. Community Feeling. Easy assessment of discussion. Using it as a teaching space as we have no other online teaching
24. Developing learning communities, good feedback, ‘sharing’ culture
25. –
26. Student learning
27. Achieving ‘learning by doing’, constructivist, participatory, group processes
28. Interaction with distance students (have students in 12 countries) Record of their cognitive development. Encouraging reflection and deeper learning
29. Building community, building common experience
30. To use the discussion tools to socially construct learning e.g. build online learning environments and activities
31. Achieve collaboration, collegiality (esp. in distance courses), knowledge construction, critical thinking, reflection
32. student to gain deep understanding of subject under discussion
33. In-depth discussions, deep learning, critical analysis, community building
34. Empowering students through group / projects, independent learning
35. Achieve? Use of the resource as one of many tools – list of resources
36. Sharing insights and knowledge
37. Better student interaction and peer support (scaffolding), overcoming isolation of distance
38. Answering common problems, discussion of additional concepts, students helping each other
39. Create online communities of learners, enable higher level learning, enable socialisation
40. Students to independently keep up / start discussion
41. Collaborative work, knowledge contribution, building a positive learning community.
42. collaborative problem solving
43. community building for collaborative work, facilitating learning rather than knowledge transmission
44. I would like to see more effective communication happening.

And following that (and linked by number – i.e. it’s the same responses in 23 and 23) the responses to question seven, “How’s it going?” were as follows:

1. Mixed results
2. Slowly – still needs much attention
3. Not very well
4. Not too badly
5. Mixed bag
6. “luddites” need mentoring
7. Difficult to do without assessable component
8. Not great
9. Slowly getting more adoption of this approach
10. Difficult to locate interested parties
11. Only ‘early adopters’ are doing this. Most see online learning as a place to put unit info, ppts & lecture notes. But the number of early adopters is growing, as is the awareness of the scope & importance of online communication tools.
12. OK could be better
13. –
14. Patchy
15. Well in some units
16. Having a tool developed to counter these and other issues
17. Difficult with large groups of students?
18. Fairly patchy. Not v. high uptake
19. Really well for myself, not sure about others
20. It’s not
21. Not used enough
22. Brilliantly!
23. Assessment difficult & time consuming. We are progressing with the rest.
24. Very varied results, success depends on academics skill at facilitating
25. Varies depending on interest / experience of lecturer
26. Not too bad
27. Mixed results – increased volume of participation causes extra work
28. How to moderate success?
29. Variable. Often not as good as we’d like.
30. About 2% do that across the university
31. Depends teacher to teacher
32. Going well (on some courses)
33. Depends on the lecturer
34. Could be better
35. –
36. Well, in parts
37. Not yet achieved anything like potential, nothing like this is yet going on
38. OK at answering common problems and students helping each other, discussion of additional concepts doesn’t happen (… I find the under use of my discussion forums very frustrating)
39. Some good, some bad, complaint about lack of participation
40. Not going very well, unless assessed
41. OK
42. Generally poorly done, lack of strategies for using forums well
43. Patchy, depends on tutor
44. I feel at present it is often very superficial an d not a quality, engaging type of use of these tools. Many staff prefer to use the telephone as opposed to anything online – part of this is out of fear and discomfort with the technology.

Here’s the complete data in Word document form (sorry).

So, interesting stuff I think you’ll agree, I’m off to my daughter’s ‘graduation’ (University kindergarten ;o) and’ll email out these results tomorrow to the participants, in the meantime does anyone want to have a crack at drawing any conclusions from them… I can think of a few already but out of time….

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