Underscoring the Social Nature of Classrooms by Examining the Amount of Virtual Talk across Online and Blended College Courses

March 28, 2012


Online communication forums allow students to collaborate and construct understandings of course material together, but little is known about students’ discussion participation across online and blended (hybrid) classroom environments. This study begins to address this research gap by examining students’ asynchronous discussions (number and length of “initial” and “subsequent” discussion posts) that took place in three online and two blended courses offered at two different universities. Students in each of the online and blended learning environments produced over two pages (>500 words) of posts for each of three topic discussions (called “conferences” for each course), and mean word counts were compared. In this exploratory study, “course format” as a variable did not influence the amount of students’ asynchronous talk in any predictable way. Although more comparisons are needed to draw conclusive results, these preliminary findings reveal no pattern of participation across course types (i.e., online and blended) and thereby reinforce the constructive nature of classrooms as well as the importance of student place, group size, and subjectivities. We argue that students’ experiences across course formats are infused with social dynamics and relational performances that may mitigate cross-format research endeavours and also that might challenge assumptions practitioners make about classroom environmental design.

The European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning

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