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LearnIT -future directions for learning with technology at the University of Adelaide
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The impacts of technology on communication -mapping the limits of online discussion forums Matthew Thomas

Presenter's biographical details
Matthew Thomas is currently completing his PhD in the Department of Geographical and Environmental Studies, and the ACUE. His doctoral research has examined in detail the use of new Information and Communication technologies in Higher Education, and has focussed on the impacts of technology-mediated communication on collaborative learning.

Abstract
It is often assumed that Information and Communication Technologies can offer new and improved means of inter-personal communication. Currently, there is also great enthusiasm for the possible application of these new technologies in Higher Education. However, the possible impacts of technology on students' interaction must be addressed. This paper reports on critical evaluations of on-line discussion forums, and provides a detailed analysis of students' on-line communication. It is demonstrated that there are limits to the efficacy of current technologies in supporting collaborative and communicative models of learning. Recommendations are given as to the role of on-line discussion forums in our teaching and learning, and it is suggested that we must be aware of the limitations of technology-mediated discussions.

Web address
http://online.adelaide.edu.au/LearnIT.nsf/URLs/technology_and_communication

Introduction

There has been a great deal of research in the area of computer-mediated communication over the last decade. The majority of published research focuses on the ways in which such communication can enhance learning and provide new and improved forms of communication. A number of potential benefits of computer-mediated communication have been explored, and these include increased interaction, the provision of non-hierarchical communication environments, the negation of gender and racial imbalance, a focus on the content and not context of communication, and the breakdown of power and allied knowledge structures (Boshier, 1990; Edmonds, 1998; Hiltz, 1986; Kayne, 1987; McCreary, 1990). Furthermore, it has been suggested that web-based courses can offer co-operative and collaborative modes of learning and facilitate the social construction of knowledge through on-line peer group discussion (Yazdani and Bligh, 1997). Similarly, advantages in relation to greater flexibility and educational efficiency have been identified (Johnston, et al., 1996).

The paper briefly reports on research that was undertaken in order to assess the potential benefits, and possible problems with the use of computer-mediated communication in undergraduate and postgraduate courses. This paper serves to present some initial findings, and to highlight a number of problems which arose in these case studies.

Dialogue and learning

Collier (1985, p.3) has described a change taking place in higher education, and highlights the trend towards small group work as an alternative to didactic modes. One proponent of such a paradigm shift is Diana Laurillard (1988; 1993) who has developed a communication or conversational model of learning as an alternative to the traditional didactic forms of higher education. Laurillard explains how teaching and learning in higher education must be realigned with our emergent understanding of naturalistic learning, and must embrace the process of internal and interactive dialogue in the construction of meaning. She states, building upon the theory of social constructivism:

Essentially, a learning process complex enough to achieve the aims of academic learning must involve at least two participants, operating iteratively and interactively on two levels - practice and discussion - and connecting those two levels by the activities of adaptation and reflection (Laurillard, 1999, p.114).

In her model of...
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