Disentangling the Threads: Analysing Synchronous Online Discussions


This paper investigates features of synchronous chat-communication within a postgraduate e-learning programme that is rooted communities of enquiry (Lave & Wenger, 1991). This project, funded by the Scottish Government, was to provide staff development for teachers throughout Scotland. The paper considers approaches to making sense of disparate threads of online chats between tutors and students and methodological issues in identifying the appropriate unit of analysis. The framework for analysis was derived from promotion of a community of enquiry perspective (Garrison, 2007; Garrison & Vaughan, 2008) which emphasises the importance of the intersection of social, cognitive and teaching presence for achieving shared learning goals. A quantitative content analysis of transcripts from tutor led group chats was used to determine frequencies of teaching presence, social presence, and cognitive presence indicators. Results show that overall, 70% of the contributions were coded as facilitating cognitive discourse. This finding builds on previous research by Ortiz-Rodriguez et al. (2005) which suggests that instructors can influence cognitive presence within synchronous chat. It is suggested that the community of learning enquiry has the potential to help identify critical points for encouraging cognitive presence within synchronous chats. In addition, the study has implications for the growing number of guidelines for the design of online learning environments, particularly in terms of the extent to which synchronous chats have potentially underestimated the value of synchronous learning environments in supporting deeper, critical thinking and shared reflection among learners.

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Grogan, D. (2015) Disentangling the Threads: Analysing Synchronous Online Discussions. Creative Education, 6, 338-349. doi: 10.4236/ce.2015.63032.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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