CCE Theses and Dissertations

The Learning Process, Moderation and Discourse Patterns in Asynchronous Computer Conferencing

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences


Getrude W. Abramson

Committee Member

Laurie Dringus

Committee Member

Timothy Ellis


Asynchronous computer conferencing is playing an increasingly important role in distance education, especially in higher education, by affording opportunities for in depth and meaningful learning. Working within a qualitative paradigm, a multiple-case study was conducted of three online asynchronous computer conferences at Nova Southeastern University's Graduate School of Computer and Information Sciences. The study examined the learning process in these conferences from the points of view of interaction, cognition and discourse analysis. Cognition was assessed using three models: Bloom's Taxonomy (Bloom, Engelhart, Furst, Hill, & Krathwohl, 1956), the SOLO Taxonomy (Biggs & Collis, 1982) and Garrison, Anderson and Archer's (2001) Practical Inquiry Model of Cognitive Presence. The learning interactions, based on the verbal data from the conferencing transcripts, were mapped and visually depicted. A number of thread types were identified, which became the basis for comparisons of the cognitive and discourse components within each case. The interactions were also analyzed using a modified version of Henri's (1992) Analytical Model for the Interactive Dimension. Levels of cognition in all three conferences were characterized by higher-order thinking. Synergistic interaction in the conference threads was associated with higher levels of cognition than other types of interaction, pointing to the importance of the collaborative element in learning. Discourse analysis of the first conference, the main case study, showed that the facilitation of learning was a function of the student-student and student-teacher exchanges arising from the instructor's moderation. In the second case, a conference that had no formal instructor intervention, the learning interactions were found to be related to the way in which the instructor had structured the instructional task and by the student -student exchanges triggered by the task. The analysis of the third case revealed patterns relating to the role of informal student moderation.

At the interpretive level of the study, which was based on numerical and statistical analysis, emerging patterns were described within each case and across the three cases. Using the Practical Inquiry Model as a basis, and triangulating findings from the interactive, cognitive and discourse perspectives, a modified content analysis scheme for evaluating the learning process in asynchronous computer conferencing was proposed.

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