Thursday, 5 March 2009

Engaging Conversation?

In attempt to try and understand why some choose not to engage in discussion, debate, conversation or dialogue when learning online, I thought I would try and brainstorm some thoughts here. Especially since my learning style seems to suit conversational environments and because I tend to feel robbed of the learning that could transpire if those who do not, were to join the conversation.

Any ideas?


  1. An interesting question as to why some choose not to engage in conversation on-line. I think one possibility is the status of the written word

    a) it is a permanent record while a f2f comment is fleeting - residing in memory which can be forgotten or distorted over time. Some people may be inhibited to record in text a thought which they might happily throw out in a f2f interaction.

    b) the idea of a written conversation may be very new to some people. Writing is 'formal', f2f conversation is 'informal'. A written conversation seems to be a contradiction in terms. A "formal informality" or an "informal formality"? Some people may be inhibited because they feel they must have a clearly defined view before they can add to the conversation. (The formal written essay approach). They do not understand that they can use the written conversation to develop their views with others.

    Another thought - you mention that as an extraverted learner, you were naturally inclined to embrace the written conversation mode. However, I would argue that introverts might prefer the asynchronous nature of a discussion board because it gives them time to reflect before posting. Whereas they do not have time for that reflection in a f2f interaction (or in a synchronous online chat).


  2. Yes this is an interesting question and it was interesting when we covered the different online identities of users who participate in CMC. 'The Flamer', 'The Lurker' and so on.

    Ironically, considering what I am about to write, there's not a lot to add to Silvana's points.

    One of my main feelings about participation in online conversations is that often it is difficult to express an opinion that hasn't already been said by someone else. I often find myself reading through a lot of discussion postings and agreeing with may of the comments, when I feel I have a point to add or there's the opportunity the question an issue, more often than not, someone else has got in there.

    Rather than adding 'noise' to the thread by posting something like "Yes, I agree with .....", I feel it's often better to just leave it. I appreciate though, that this can seem like you're not fully engaging with the topic of conversation. Perhaps the secret is to get in there early on to help get the discussion going and check more regularly.

    Also, I might just add to the issue that for some users, unless involvement in discussion activities is summatively assessed, their motivation to participate can be affected. Hamish and Clara tried to address this in ULOE, but the percentage mark attached to the discussion activities was so small that the impact wasn't massive. Having said that, the discussion activities in that module were rife!

  3. >>Perhaps the secret is to get in there early on to help get the discussion going and check more regularly.

    I'm third in! Obviously this is Salaman 2008's comment (Footprints and Sparks); he finds "the discussion boards a bit of a drag, mainly because I leave things too late in the week ... such that I have to wade through loads of comments before being able to give my opinion".

  4. Just to add to Mark's comment about not adding 'noise' if the points you want to make have already been made. I think that's fine. I found the trick was to check the discussion board (even if for 15 minutes) every day so I could keep up with the discussion. If I had something to say I would say it, if not I would read. I still learned a lot by reading.

    It took me a while to learn how to use the discussion board.

    (My broken wrist on this course also had an impact on how often I contributed!)


  5. In my quest to understand this, I found the Myers Briggs introverted personality type helped enormously.

    (Whilst accepting that we are all bits of both types to varying degrees, in different contexts and at different stages or points in time etc) Myers Briggs indicates that an introvert learns by reflecting. Even though some think that a conversation with yourself in reflection does not count as conversation, I feel it could, up to a point, because in reflection the 'speaker' is interacting with their previous knowledge, learning and context to 'negotiate' how to integrate new knowledge or learning. Obviously there are no opportunities to relate this learning to others ideas or perspective, except those they are reading,so some advantages of dialogue are not being fully realised. Never-the-less those who did not engage in conversation on the boards in IDEL where engaging in the reflective conversations, both on their own instigation and via the assessed weblog. The weblog of course in IDEL had the added benefit of faciliting a student-tutor dialogue too.

    So when discussion board and weblog are used both learning styles are being catered for and those with multiple personalities are 'as happy as larry'. Meanwhile conversation is happening in both places.

    An introvert it seems still likes to learn by reading others' posts so in return - perhaps the extrovert could read the introvert learners blog posts?

    This is an ideal world I suspect, but could be part of a learning contract all parties sign up to before each module as part of their committment to engage for maximum benefit?

    Or will this put too many learners off and increase drop out rates?

    The Myers Briggs personalities also helped me to understand why Edinburgh might chose not to assess discussions, when others courses do because it could benefit one type of learner over the other.

    I have noted Youenns posts about assessed discussion perhaps being prefered by some researchers and this is something I would like to quiz him about futher.....

  6. Ok. Not counting at what entry we are.. :)
    What to add?
    Assess discussion: a colleague of mine requires students a minimum contribution to discussion/blog as part of the assessment... I think an interesting way to induce student to use the tool.
    I suppose particularly when you are new to this technology you feel scared to get into it. Through the IDEL course I realise I had to take confidence and take the risk of writing an entry. As Silvana says it is permanent. It happened that once I had an idea but think there was no entry at that time and did not feel to be the first.. the next time I got in there was a rather long threat and part of my point was already clearly outlines.. not sure I wrote anything at the end.. And sometimes it is like to speak to people that you do not know and maybe you would express the same concept in the same way if f2f ;)


Grab a coffee, pull up a chair and come and join the conversation