Jun 012012

Authors: Jim Hewitt & Earl Woodruff

Student discussions in online environments have often been criticized as lacking in coherence (Herring, 1999; Hewitt, 2001, 2003; Suthers, Vatrapu, Medina, Joseph, & Dwyer, 2008; Thomas, 2002). While the branching structure of threaded discourse is useful for sharing the many diverse ideas held by community members, there are few supports for consolidation or synthesis. Consequently, online discussions tend to expand in many directions at once, fragmenting the focus of the community. The overarching goal of our research was to explore potential solutions to this problem. To accomplish this, we have been examining the potential of new software designs for reducing the coherence problem. Specifically, we have been experimenting with designs that integrate conventional threaded discourse with new representational supports – supports that allow learners to maintain an ongoing meta-level summary of the group discussion. This paper presents the results of our initial trials.
Link to draft paper