ELT 7008 - Assignment 5 Discussion – Conversational Differences

Discuss some of the differences between a face-to-face conversation and an online conversation. What advice can we offer students that will help maintain the integrity of online conversations in an online classroom? Be specific
Within the traditional classroom face-to-face conversations take place while in the online environment a variety of communication tools are available to facilitate online conversations such as the use of (a) discussion boards, (b) instant messages, (c) blogs, (d) wikis, (e) Elluminate, and (f) Skype to name a few. Conversations in the traditional classroom differ from those within the virtual classroom in terms of synchronous or asynchronous conversations as well as visually and aurally. The traditional classroom is located in a physical space wherein learners experience a physical presence and are able to easily view and hear conversations including voice, body language, intonation, expressions, and gestures (Ko & Rossen, 2010). The online learning environment is intangible with learners located virtually and the ability to converse is more difficult. Biocca, Burgoon, Harms, and Stoner (as cited in Lehman and Conceicao, 2010) noted the importance for instructors to create social presence in the online environment to facilitate learner conversations as:

we need to think, feel, and behave differently than we do in the face-to-face environment because we have to make an effort to be aware of the intentions of others and their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors when’ they are connected to us via technology. (p. 2).

The most obvious difference between face-to-face conversations and online conversations is learners are located in the same physical space and can see and observe the facial expressions or body language of other learners within the traditional classroom as well as hear the conversation. Online learners must rely on conversational tools made available in the online environment which are often text-based and utilize symbols to create emotions which convey body language or facial expressions. While emotional cues are easily recognizable in the face-to-face classroom they must be intentionally created within the online environment (Lehman & Conceicao). Online learners must convey emotions through the use of emotional expressions or symbols titled emoticons which allow learners to "see others' expressions more concretely" (Chen, nd, p. 2).

Text-based conversational tools such as blogs and wikis enable learners to view and explore the iinformation posted to the site as well as reflect upon information posted and to develop their own postings in another medium prior to posting for all learners to see their work. Sherry (2000) noted that "one advantage of text-based communication is that written communication tends to be more reflective than spoken interaction" (para. 51). Blogs support learners to explore topics as noted by Instone (2005) as "the unconstrained format of the blog allows learners to make links between topics and to relate topics to work settings and personal views" (p. 306). Advances in technology now allow learners to meet with the instructor or with other learners via conversational tools such as Skype or Elluminate which allows voice and real time camera transmissions wherein facial expressions and body language can still be observed as in the face-to-face classroom. The use of multiple methods of communication in the design of online conversations is important as learners have different learning styles and a variety of communication tools and techniques helpt to meet the nees of learners (Sherry, 2000, para. 40).

It is critical for instructors to create an online learning environment wherein learners have tools available to effectively communicate with the instructor and their peers in order to create social presence within the learning community. "Adult learning theory suggests that learners are resources with much to offer each other. In such a learning community conversation can be a powerful tool for learning and transformation" (Instone, 2005, p. 306).

Online Conversation Tips for Learners
  • Be respectful and aware of the constraints of online conversations
  • Read and re-read the text-based response prior to posting
  • Use emoticons appropriately to convey unseen visual cues
  • Take the time to participate in early activities - get to know your course mates, instructor, and the content
  • Participate regularly and timely
  • Understand your role basedon the assignment guidelines - this could change for each assignment
  • Review guidelines and tips provided for learners by the educational institution (Southwestern example located below)
  • Practice using discussion forums and other technology well in advance of assignment due dates
  • Ask questions – know the contact information for support (technology and course)
  • Ask questions – contact the instructor with questions in a timely manner for assistance with course content
  • Ask questions – post questions to a learner café or to other learners as course mates can be a good source of information

Learner Tips for Online Learning - in addition to those related to online conversations
  • Are you ready? Take a readiness quiz provided by the educational institution you are attending or another available online (Southwestern, Sierra College, Manchester Metropolitan University in the UK)
  • Do you have the computer skills? Review the requirements and expectations of the educational institution
  • Participate in online orientation programs – as a first-time online learner and encouraged for first-time enrollment at a different educational institution
  • Review the FAQ’s available prior to enrolling and those available for each course (frequently asked questions) provided by the educational institution or at others available online (Southwestern)
  • Review the expectations for online learners – what are the technology requirements for computers and software?
  • Review the expectations for each course – every course differs and the requirements will vary

Instructor e-Communication Tips in the Online Environment - view the wiki page with information for instructors and the research by Lorraine Sherry (2000).

Learner Resources - Sample Tips Southwestern Oregon Community College
  • Each of the documents below are linked to every online course at Southwestern in a student resources section of the course and are designed to provide learners with tips to be successful in the online classroom which address online communications.

Documents from Southwestern posted with permission from the Instructional Design Specialist who created the documents in collaboration
with an e-cohort of faculty during Spring 2011 as part of a Title III Strengthening Instituions Grant.

Online Resources and Literature Review Resources

Bonk, C. (2010, July 31). Online visual learning [Video file]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8fJpDd4wWQ&list=PLB6672E016DCDEB5B&index=16&feature=plpp

Building an Online Learning Community:

Conversations Beyond the Classroom: http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/brisbane05/blogs/proceedings/34_Instone.pdf

Graduate Students' Experiences of Challenges in Online Asynchronous Discussion: http://www.cjlt.ca/index.php/cjlt/article/view/128/122

Nature and Purpose of Online Conversations: http://home.comcast.net/~lorraine.sherry/publications/dialogue.htm

Socialization in Online Programs: http://www.inacol.org/research/promisingpractices/NACOL_PP_Socialization.pdf

Visuialization Tool for Managing Online Communication:

Personal Resources
Initial Challenges Discussion ELT 7003


Chen, Y. (nd). Building an online learning community. University of Washington. Retreived from http://scholar.googleusercontent.com/scholar?q=cache:gTVRJYy5fqkJ:scholar.google.com/+online+conversations+versus+face+to+face+conversationsand+academic+courses&hl=en&as_sdt=0,38

Instone, L. (2005, December). Conversations beyond the classroom: Blogging in a professional development course. Paper presented at the 22nd Annual of the Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education, Brisbane, Australia. Retrieved from http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/brisbane05/blogs/proceedings/34_Instone.pdf

Ko, S., & Rossen, S. (2010). Teaching online: A practicial guide. New York, NY: Routledge.

Lehman, R., & Conceicao, S. (2010). Creating a sense of presense in online teaching: How to 'be there' for distance learners. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Sherry, L. (2000). The nature and purpose of online conversations: A brief synthesis of current research. International Journal of Educational Telecommunications, 6 (1), 19-52. Retrieved from: http://home.comcast.net/~lorraine.sherry/publications/dialogue.htm