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I. Verenikina, J. Delahunty, P. Jones

University of Wollongong (AUSTRALIA)
This paper presents a study on Scaffolding university students’ online discussion in an asynchronous Forum in a postgraduate blended delivery course at an Australian University.

The proliferation of online learning in higher education merits re-examination of what constitutes quality, productive discussion conducive to the cooperative construction of knowledge, learning engagement and the development of on-line communication skills. The literature demonstrates that interaction with peers and lecturers is important in online learning, with benefits such as the development of new understandings and practices, a heightened sense of community, increased student satisfaction and higher retention rates (Delahunty, Verenikina & Jones, 2014). However, there is a lack of evidence-based, pedagogically driven guides for lecturers and students on how to prepare and monitor students’ online discussion and indeed how to gauge the productiveness of their engagement in such discussions.

Fostering productive discussion in online contexts is no easy matter. In the face-to-face classroom, teachers and students naturally draw on a range of meaning-making modes, while in online discussion, this interaction is restricted to written language. This means that more is at stake in terms of how participants initiate and sustain interactions, question and clarify information and respond to others’ ideas. In short, productive online discussion rests on the complex relationship between interpersonally and experientially oriented dialogue moves. Therefore we argue that more awareness of language choices through which the academic content of the subject is collaboratively negotiated is required. Our research into online environments has demonstrated that different teaching styles and the way in which discussions are orchestrated largely determines the quality and extent of productive discussion leading to new understandings (Delahunty, Jones & Verenikina, 2014).

The project draws on cultural-historical theory (originated by Vygotsky, 1978) which allows us to conceptualise effective social interactions in relation to notions of scaffolding (Hammond & Gibbons, 2005), collaborative reasoning (Mercer, 2008) and co-construction of knowledge in on-line environments (Gao, Zhang & Franklin, 2013).

This presentation will draw on a pilot study conducted in one tertiary institution in Australia based on postgraduate blended delivery course where draft guidelines for both lecturers and students were trialled.

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[5] Mercer, N. (2008). Talk and the development of reasoning and understanding. Human Development, 51(1), 90-100
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