Intentional and Incidental Discourse Variables in a Virtual Learning Community

Ben K. Daniel, Richard A. Schwier and Heather M. Ross Virtual Learning Community Lab (VLC) , Educational Communications and Technology University of Saskatchewan,,

Outline of Presentation
• Fundamental elements of virtual leaning communities • Research motivation • Features of learning in virtual learning communities • Research questions • Research design • Data sources and analysis • Results • Conclusions • Ongoing and future research

Fundamental Elements of Virtual Learning Communities

VLC model (Schwier, 2001)

Research Motivation
• Learning in virtual learning communities (VLCs) is receiving considerable attention • Current research focuses on building, supporting and sustainability VLCs • Limited research informing our understanding of the nature of discourse that can ultimately influence learning • Need to examine nature of discourse in order to understand the process of learning • Understanding the process of learning helps in developing tools and processes to support it

Features of Learning in VLCs
• Informal and formal learning • Minimise the learning required to operate within them • Data, information exchange, and knowledge sharing • Easy, cheaper, and faster access to peer help • Minimising cognitive procession • Ability to network with colleagues belong class boundaries

Research Questions
• What is the nature of discourse in virtual learning communities? • Can a model of learning be constructed to inform our understand of the process inherent in learning in VLCs? • What kinds of tools and processes are necessary to support different kinds of learning in VLCs?

Research Design
• Data drawn from a graduate level course in year 1 • The course included weekly structured online discussions

Data Sources and Analysis
• Coding with Atlas ti – Grounded theory approach for novel variables – Purposeful coding for anticipated variables (reliability estimates) • Transcripts of online discussions and email • Coding done by one researcher, with a second researcher reviewing the coding scheme as it emerged • Inter-coder reliability estimates were not calculated

International Variables
Variable Explicit information Evaluation Elaboration Inquiry Evaluation Argumentation Uncertainty Suggestion Clarification Summation Feedback Definition Providing new ideas or information without explicit expectation of reciprocity Judging, assessing, or criticising specific postings, and ideas Extending the meaning of a particular posting, illustrating with examples Requesting explanations, questions, or expressing doubt about specific ideas or postings Judging, assessing, or criticizing specific postings, ideas Critically examining knowledge with respect to contrary evidence Explicitly expressing doubt Offering alternatives, insights new solutions etc. Providing concrete examples or fresh explanations Summarising postings, ideas or interactions Responding to postings/postings that provide new information

Incidental variables
Variable Shared Understanding Shared Experience Observations Reflection Peer-support Sociability Disagreement Definition Building agreement/consensus between two or more participants about meaning of discourse Describing past experiences, stories etc. Analysing or expressing opinions about a specific situation or item of discourse Considering experiences, postings in previous discussions, or situating current discussions in previous events Providing or requesting for help Offering expressions of courtesy , hospitality and acknowledgement One participant challenging the comments of another without supporting evidence

Results of the Discourse Variables

Key Results
• Argumentation was the dominant variable within the intentional clusters • Inquiry was another significant learning variable among the intentional discussions • Overall within both clusters of variables, sociability was the dominant variable

• The intentional and incident learning variables emerged from data analysis • Learning process can be leveled as Learning is multivariate and diverse within the community - categories are tentative and share variance • The two clusters both inform our understanding of the process of learning in VLCs • The two variables clusters do not measure learning itself but rather describe the processes of learning in VLCs

Ongoing and Future Research
• Develop instruments for validating the variables of discourse identified against learning
– Gather learners experiences – Experts’ experiences

• • •

Examine the variation in the quality of discussions generated through synchronous and asynchronous Conduct statistical differences among the variables and single out the most influential ones interactions in VLCs Develop a Bayesian Belief Network model of learning in VLCs to understand the nature of learning in VLCs

Thanks Questions??
Further information email: Ben K. Daniel, Richard A. Schwier and Heather M. Ross Virtual Learning Community Lab (VLC) , Educational Communications and Technology University of Saskatchewan,,

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