On-Line Teaching and Learning: A Description of the Development of The Media Technology and Diversity Online Course and Its Electronic Discourse analysis
The purpose of this study was to examine and describe the events of the first iteration of the Media Technology and Diversity course with an in-depth analysis of its electronic discourse. In conceptualizing the viable alternatives for delivering college-level distance education via on-line technologies, Harasim (1990) cautions that the mere introduction of computer mediated communication "does not in itself improve learning; design (or method) is crucial" (p. xx). The role of instructional design as the cornerstone of all effective instruction is relevant as new technologies are used in teaching and learning. The MTD distance education course content was delivered via the World Wide Web, where the course homepage was the on-line classroom and e-mail and Webchat communication supported participants' interaction. The participants of the study were the instructors and teaching assistants, as well as the undergraduate and graduate students who took the course.
The electronic archive data, student assignments, and follow-up interviews with participants provided multiple data points for analysis. The Webchat archive data was analyzed using the NUD.DIST qualitative research software to sort and produce descriptive statistics. The analysis of e-mail and Webchat discourse revealed that participant interaction differed between media types and between asynchronous and scheduled the Webchat discussions. The differences were temporal, topical, and structural. Student initiated thought-provoking Webchat dialogue yet on-line content delivery, course structure, and reliability of computer systems reduced student participation in on-line discourse and course activities.
Significantly, lessons learned from the design of the MTD experience indicate that on-line course development requires advance technical skill and accessible instructional technologies. Instructional designers should develop course materials with the end-users' lowest common denominator technologies to increase participation and learning opportunities. The lessons learned from the electronic discourse analysis indicate that the WWW is a very complex instructional environment that requires carefully designed pedagogical activities and interaction. Research results indicate that where as asynchronous Webchat discussions encourage students to initiate conversation topics, the overall participation in on-line discourse is low. On the other hand, scheduled Webchat discussions promote lengthy and more thought-provoking discussions, but students generally respond to instructor-posted questions or topics.