The Role of Chatrooms in Facilitating Learning Behaviors in Small Group Discussions
Hudson, James M.
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Primary and secondary school students (Setzer, Lewis, and Greene, 2005), college students (I. E. Allen and Seaman, 2003, 2004), and corporate employees (Galvin, 2002) are all engaging more and more in some form of online or blended online/face-to-face education. Given the large number of pedagogical and design choices that we must make, however, where do we begin when designing new environments? I argue that its important for us to consider how technological design choices interact with pedagogical choices and cognitive states to affect learning behaviors. To illustrate this, I examine the impact of synchronous chat media on educational discussions. Specifically, I ask two questions: (1) Since research has often reported that chat environments promote conversational equity (e.g., Warschauer, 1997), which features of synchronous text-based chat seem to help create conversational equity? and (2) how does this change impact the content of small group discussions? Using ethnographic-style observations and quasi-experimental studies, I show how changing conversational media influences (or doesnt) the resulting discussion among students. I present three results: * Certain properties of the chat medium seem to discourage conversational dominance by any one individual through (a) denying that individual mechanisms to control the conversational floor and (b) reducing the inhibition felt by shy or otherwise disempowered students. * The choice of medium does not seem to affect the quality of discussion content nearly as much as other variables. * Efficiency is diminished in chatrooms; achieving quality discussions online requires significantly more time because (a) typing is slower than speaking and (b) students are able to do other, parallel activities while engaging in a chat discussion. In the conclusion, I examine the broader implications of these findings for the design of conversational environments, whether for educational or business use.