Study 3 - Kent, Laso, Rafaeli & Baram-Tsabari

Designing network support for online discourse based on ambient group communication studies
Asynchronous online discussions are commonly used to support collaborative learning in both fully online and blended higher education courses. While online discussion holds a promise for learning and collaborative knowledge building, there remains a challenge. The opportunity to share ideas, learn from peers, and build knowledge collectively in virtual settings is the promise. Yet, in practice, online discussions often do not meet engagement expectations. Contributions are frequently disjointed or not responsive, and discussions may become shallow and incoherent.

This poster represents a synergistic study that combines educational psychology and learning sciences theoretical roots of socio-constructivism and collaborative knowledge building, with theories and frameworks from the field of knowledge management and information sciences, such as perceptions on group communication and interactivity (Rafaeli, 1988). With this joint research lens, we propose a focus on shared and dynamic construction of knowledge during a discussion, using semantic network structures for the discussion instead of the classic thread-based discussion structure. For this purpose we developed Ligilo, a peer learning online platform for networked based discussions. Ligilo enables learning communities to create collective concept maps through discussions. Ligilo provides a hyperlinked learning environment, where the relations between content items are generated collaboratively and connections are made explicit.

The system was used during 2014-15 in several academic institutions and study groups in different settings. Field studies were conducted to evaluate the learning afforded by the semantic networked online discussion forums. Initial research insights shed light on the process of collaborative knowledge building, and the new roles of learners and teachers in learning communities. For instance, initial evidence shows that interactivity level was directly affected by the structure of the discussion, the request to relate new contributions to other students' contributions, and to explicitly tag those relations. Additionally, teachers used Ligilo's tools to manage (or delegate management of) the discussion towards their instructional goals, thus shifting their pedagogies into more learner-centered, rather than teacher-centered approaches. 

Lessons learned from the ambient to the designed arena. 

Building on a theoretical framework that was developed by studying ambient computer mediated communication (Rafaeli, 1988), this research developed an innovative TEL environment to support online discourse in a designed setting. The lessons learned from the ambient to the designed arena include qualitative insights regarding interest, argumentation and knowledge types, as well as quantitative measurement of metrics regarding outcomes, learning behavior, sharing and interactivity at the community and individual levels of learning.