On this page I've included theories and models which outline how you can successfully integrate CMC into your teaching practice. The rationale for why you should consider doing this is outlined in the "Models of Digitally Enhanced Teaching & Learning" page, if you have not yet read this then I highly recommend that you do so before you continue with this page.
 While the term has traditionally instant messages, e-mails, chat rooms), it has also been applied to other forms of text-based interaction such as text messaging. Research on CMC focuses largely on the social effects of different computer-supported communication technologies. Many recent studies involve Internet-based social networking supported by social software."
- Synchronous - where everyone is online
at the same time and chats together in "real time".
Examples of this would be seen using MSN messnger, Facebook chat, Skype or Tinychat.
- A-synchronous - where participants can leave
messages for one another that others can respond to at a later time.
Examples of this would be seen using online forums to hold a discussion or in a Twitter conversation.
|Stage One:Access and Motivation||
For this first stage, it is critical that the tutor ensures that the learner can easily and quickly access the online conference, often in a VLE. Usually this will be to ensure there are no technical problems, for example, with passwords. Technical support is critical at this stage as the learner can easily become frustrated. Simultaneously the tutor needs to ensure that the learners understand the need to put time and effort into the online activity. All the learners will need to know why they are accessing the online conference and what they can receive from it.
|Stage Two: Online Socialisation||
During this stage, learners need to become comfortable in the online environment and to socialise with each other. There are a number of barriers which may inhibit this:
Salmon in 'e-tivities' provides a number of online activities that can help new learners in the online environment become comfortable and ready to talk and collaborate online. It is essential to create an environment where learners feel respected and show respect to each other. Salmon states that this stage is over when learners have started to share a little about themselves online.
|Stage 3: Information Exchange||
Usually this stage of the conference is characterised by the fast and furious exchange of messages. The learner will interact with the resources in the VLE such as weblinks, databases, case studies and fellow learners. One of the issues at this stage is information overload and some learners complain about the messiness of the conference. The role of the tutor is to give some structure and to keep things organised. It is critical that the tutor does not respond to all messages at this stage but summarises and focuses the online discussions. Some learners at this stage may move away from the 'social' stage but it is essential that it remains for some, for example, through an online student cafe area where students can discuss without the tutor.
|Stage 4: Knowledge Construction||
The main focus is building an online community focusing on learning, at this juncture. The tutor will be relating messages back to concepts and theories and encouraging other learners to respond. The tutor will be summarising but also moving the group along to new subjects and topics when appropriate. At this stage, the tutor may also be sharing the leadership with learners.
|Stage 5: Development||
It is at this stage where we clearly see Salmon's link to constructivism. The online learners are taking responsibility for their own learning and becoming more confident and critical thinkers. The focus is on high-level learning with the tutor encouraging the learners to discuss concepts and ideas at a deeper level.
"Exploratory talk, according to Neil Mercer (2000), is where pupils engage critically but constructively with each other's ideas. They may make proposals which can be challenged and counter-challenged, but if so they have to give their reasons and offer alternatives. As with dialogic talk, pupils try to reach an agreement.
The main benefits are that exploratory talk provides pupils with an opportunity to extend their thinking and their learning through talk and through engaging with others' ideas in a supportive but challenging setting.
Exploratory talk can operate equally in a whole-class setting or in small groups or pairs and where arrangements and guidance for dialogic talk can operate"
It stands to reasons that, if this is true with face to face discussion then it should also be true with online discussions too.
In the paper "Virtual Teams and the Appropriation of Communication Technology: Exploring the Concept of Media Stickiness" Huysman et al make the case that the success of a group trying to communicate and work together online will depend entirely on how flexible the team members are in using both synchronous and a-synchronous tools.
In the article "CMC
Modes for Learning Tasks at a Distance" Trena Paulus expands on
this and provides a table outlining the type of CMC that should be used
to facilitate a particular group task.
I've modified this table slightly so that it details some of the free CMC tools featured on this site, click on the links below to learn more:
|Steps of process||Suggested
|1.||Check in with group||Set up a news forum on either your
institutions VLE or using a free
forum provider or create
a Facebook group and message members that way.
|2.||Brainstorm ideas, post individual responses, respond to others||Create a collaborative
mind map and/or use Google
Docs to create a collaborative document.
Alternatively you could create a class wiki.
|3.||Break assignment down to divide and conquer individually||Skype
if students can all be on-line at the same time otherwise use
|4.||Choose roles, make assignments||Skype if students can all be on-line at the same time otherwise use a use a forum.|
|5.||Establish timeframe, set deadlines||Skype if students can all be online at the same time otherwise use use a forum.|
|6.||Work individually on assignments||Use Google Docs|
|7.||Combine contributions||Use Google Docs|
|8.||Edit, refine, make coherent, format||Use
|9.||Post first combined draft||Use Google Docs|
|10.||Provide feedback on draft||Use Google Docs|
|11.||Integrate feedback||Use Google Docs|
|12.||Submit final draft||Use Google Docs|
Managing students engaging in an online discussion can be more challenging than holding a traditional face to face one because, depending on the tool you use, your students may not be able to see and hear the normal facial and verbal cues that you'd normally use to manage the session.
Because of this, different techniques need to be employed to
ensure the success of the chat session.
In their paper "Facilitating debate in networked learning: Reflecting on on-line synchronous discussion in higher education" Pilkington and Walker identify three main aspects of facilitation which needs to take place:
Management - Someone, lets call them "The communication manager" needs to keep the discussion on track and also interviewing should individual student display disruptive behavior, such as TYPING IN CAPITALS or dominating the discussion and not giving others a chance to contribute.
Community Building - The communication manager should also ensure that the medium being used to hold the chat is friendly and welcoming to users. typically this would involve things like greeting each new participant as they enter the discussion space, acknowledging any useful contributions that students make to the discussion and encouraging any shy or quiet members to join in with the debate, much like you would in a face to face discussion.
Argumentation - These are the 3 skills which Arja Veerman defined as being requiered for encouraging 'exploratory talk'.
1) Challenge - When a student expresses a point of view invite them to justify it
2) Check - When a student expresses a view that is not fully developed ask them to clarify it.
3) Counter - Where appropriate, when a student expresses a justified and clear point of view, invite others to develop a counter argument.
Not only will this reduce the amount of work you have to do, but it also puts your students in charge of the quality of the discussions which in turn may lead to them developing a better understanding of what an effective discussion really is.