Instructional Science

, Volume 31, Issue 1–2, pp 41–63 | Cite as

Facilitating debate in networked learning: Reflecting on online synchronous discussion in higher education

  • Rachel M. Pilkington
  • S. Aisha Walker


Small-group collaborative learning in whichstudents have opportunity for criticaldiscussion is a key element of effectiveteaching and learning in Higher Education. Providing this sort of education throughNetworked Learning (NL) is challenging. Research in Computer Mediated Communication(CMC) is revealing that facilitating effectiveuse of these tools depends on encouragingstudents to take many different dialogue roles.Our hypothesis was that asking post-graduatestudents to reflect on the kinds of role theyshould take in synchronous online discussionwould encourage adoption of such roles. A``role-play'' activity was introduced topost-graduate students who used a VirtualLearning Environment (VLE) as part of theircourse. Initial results showed that bothdistance and face-to-face students, nativespeakers (NS) and non native speakers (NNS),working collaboratively on the same coursethrough the VLE, had comparable outcomes onessay assignments and that NNS and distancelearners slightly outperformed face-to-facestudents in their group work. Moreover, therewas evidence that the facilitation technique ofraising student awareness of roles waseffective in helping (at least some) studentsmanage synchronous online discussion moreeffectively, improving the overall coherence,focus and depth of discussion.

chat collaborative learning computer mediated communication networked learning online communities synchronous discussion virtual learning environment 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachel M. Pilkington
    • 1
  • S. Aisha Walker
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Education, University of BirminghamEdgbastonU.K.

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