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Thoughtful interaction : students’ text communication in online distance education Alexander, Leslie R.

Abstract

Interpretive and hermeneutic interview methodology was employed to report students' descriptions of the peer interactions during one online distance education course. Claims in the literature that online learning can be designed using social-constructivist pedagogies provided the context for this study. The course is a graduate level study of e-learning which is offered on WebCT and accessed through the Internet. Eight students, seven from North America and one from Oceania volunteered to participate in two phone interviews during the second half of the semester. The analysis of the interviews presents the descriptions and perspectives of students on the interactions among peers in the course. They described using asynchronous text computer-mediated communication to participate in online class discussions. Reading text messages led students to further study and research and to develop an understanding of course topics. Writing messages to contribute to the online discussions enabled students to communicate and clarify their ideas and to integrate new information related to the course. However, the time used in the work of active and reflective reading and writing limited the students' participation in the discussions. The students also described using online text interaction to work with a small group on an assigned task. The students valued the structured time frame and common goal of the task, and the personal connection with group members. They also felt more responsibility to participate, to contribute their expertise and to solve problems that arose. This study supports claims that students can participate in thoughtful interactions in an online learning environment in which the communication occurs by asynchronous text C M C . However, the students' interests and the course design and content affect these interactions. Time for the literacy practices of online interactions and an appreciation of the complexity of students' social, linguistic and cultural interests are needed.

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