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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"Are they talking yet?" : online discourse as political action in an education policy forum Klinger, Shulamit Sara


This thesis examines the dimensions of user engagement with an online forum on British Columbia's new policy on educational technology. Contributors to this site included elementary and secondary schoolteachers, distance educators, parents, students, researchers, BC Teachers' Federation staff and officers of the Ministry of Education. In the main, they did not respond to Ministry documents directly. Analysis of the site discussions reveals that participants mostly used the forum to debate the principles o f teaching and learning with technology. While many messages included collegial expressions of support, others revealed the political, ideological and pedagogical boundaries between the various education sectors in BC. In follow-up interviews, participants reported that the discussions were often fragmented and hard to follow, that it was virtually impossible to tell i f anyone else was listening, and what the impact of their contributions was. They were conscious of their professional status and uncomfortable about not knowing the size or identity of their audience, which included the Ministry of Education (BC). From the interview data I argue that the forum did not significantly increase public contributions to policy debate. However, while they acknowledged the shortcomings of the medium, participants still agreed that a forum of this kind was a valuable feature of their professional and political landscapes. In conclusion, I argue that different users differed enormously in their expectations of what the site offered, what their contribution might be and how such a site contributed to the realm of policy discussion at large. The political and educational agendas of those who did participate remained separate, fragmented and occasionally conflicting. The terms of engagement and motivation, as well as the shortcomings of this type of discussion, form the subject of this analysis. The conclusions reached here are critical to understanding the potential of this new medium for encouraging greater dialogue around political and professional issues in education and other fields. Finally, I argue that, i f the Ministry of Education could show a more effective listening presence, the texts which are produced on a future site would be more likely to answer their policy consultation needs.

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