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Learning text talk online : Collaborative learning in asynchronous text based discussion forums


Monica Liljeström


Docent Lars Svensson, Högskolan i Väst

Disputerat vid

UmU – Umeå universitet




Pedagogiska institutionen

Abstract in English

The desire to translate constructivist and sociocultural approaches to learning in specific learning activities is evident in most forms of training at current, not least in online education. Teachers worldwide are struggling with questions of how to create conditions in this fairly new realm of education for learners to contribute to the development of a good quality in their own and others’ learning. Collaboration in forms of text talk in asynchronous, text based forums (ADF) is often used so students can participate at the location and time that suits them best given the other aspects of their life situation. But previous research show how collaboration in forms of text talk do not always evolve in expected quality, and how participation sometimes can be so low that no discussions at all take place. Perhaps it is time to move on and make use of the variety of user-friendly audio-visible technologies that offers conditions for collaboration similar to those in the physical environment? Is there any point to use ADF for collaboration, beyond the flexible opportunity for participation it allows? If so, why, how and under what conditions are it worthwhile to use ADF for tasks meant to be worked collaboratively on? These questions were the starting point of the studies in this thesis that was researched through two case studies involving different techniques and data samples of various natures, with the aim to understand more about collaborative text talk. The research approach differs from the vast majority of studies in the research field of Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (CSCL) where many studies currently are conducted by analysis of quantifiable data. The first case study was conducted in the context of non-formal learning in Swedish Liberal Adult Education online, and the second in the context of higher education online in Sweden. The studies in the thesis were made on basis of socio-cultural theory and empirical studies. Empirical data was collected from questionnaires, interviews and texts created by students participating in tasks that they jointly resolved through text talk. Some results were brought back to the students for further explanation of the results. Findings from data analysis were triangulated with other results and with sociocultural theory. The results indicate that students can create knowledge relevant to their studies through text talk, but can feel restrained or dismiss the activity as irrelevant if important conditions are lacking. Collaboration through text talk makes individual resources accessible in a specific place where it can be observed and its validity for the purpose of the task evaluated by others. Students with good insight in what they are supposed to accomplish seem be able to consult relevant guidance for this evaluation, from teachers, textbooks, scientific articles and other valid experiences important to their studies, and thereby contribute to learning of the quality they studies are meant to produce. Text talk also increases teachers possibilities to identify what the guidance the study group needs when evaluating the gathered resources and through their own active participation provide support in the students zone of proximal development . Contributions offered to the CSCL research field is the identifications of important mechanisms related to learning collaboratively through text talk, and the use of case study methodology as inspiration for others to try also these kinds of strategies to capture online learning.

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