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A case study of participation and critical thinking in a university-level course delivered by computer conferencing

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Title: A case study of participation and critical thinking in a university-level course delivered by computer conferencing
Author: Bullen, Mark
Degree Doctor of Philosophy - PhD
Program Adult Education
Copyright Date: 1997
Subject Keywords Computer conferencing in education; Distance education -- Computer-assisted instruction
Abstract: Despite the growth in the size and acceptance of distance education, there have been persistent criticisms of this form of education because it often fails to provide for interaction among students and between students and instructors. Without this, it is suggested, distance education can only be an inferior imitation of the best face-to-face education because learners are unable to clarify and challenge assumptions and to construct meaning through dialogue. Some critics believe distance education's inability to reproduce a critical dialogue among students and between students and instructor can be addressed through the use of two-way communication technologies such as text-based, asynchronous (i.e., not in real time) computer conferencing. Appropriately-designed computer conferencing, it is argued, will facilitate interaction among students and between the instructor and students thus making distance education more appropriate for the higher-level cognitive goals of college and university education. At the same time, using this' technology will retain the flexibility of time and place-independence that is characteristic of distance education. The literature on educational computer conferencing is replete with references to its potential to create a new paradigm of education characterized by interactive group knowledge-building and critical thinking, but there are few empirical studies that have substantiated this view. Little is known about how and why learners participate and what factors may affect their participation. Similarly there has been little empirical study of the quality of computer conferencing interaction. This case study of a university-level course delivered by computer conferencing was designed to address these issues. It was guided by two purposes: 1) to determine whether the quantitative and qualitative dimensions of participation in this online course were consistent with key aspects of the new paradigm of networked learning as articulated in the literature, that is, if students were actively participating, building on each others contributions and thinking critically about the discussion topics; and 2) to determine what factors affected student participation and critical thinking. The results of this study suggest that some of the claims about the potential of this technology to transform conventional and distance education may be overstated. The emergence of a dynamic and interactive educational process that facilitates critical thinking was shown to be contingent on a variety of factors. The results suggest, however, that with the appropriate course design, instructor interventions, content, and students, computer conferencing can be used for these purposes and should be given serious consideration by distance educators as a way of facilitating interaction and critical thinking in distance education.
URI: http://hdl.handle.net/2429/6775
Series/Report no. UBC Retrospective Theses Digitization Project [http://www.library.ubc.ca/archives/retro_theses/]

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