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Thursday, January 11, 2007

Repost From The AECT BlogTrack - Usage of Instant Messaging as a Means of Community Building in e-Learning Environments

Okay, sorry I have been out of touch for a bit, with the holidays and the beginning of the semester and all. I'll try and get some new content up over the coming week...

This entry from the AECT BlogTrack is the third entry from the month of June, the third in the series where I described the research work that I have done to date in virtual schooling, and the eleventh overall in the re-posts from this series.

Okay, I know that I’m a little behind on these, and it is appropriate that this is the one where the break occurred - as the research study described in this entry is the only one that I haven’t done a lot with (basically I have only presented this at a single conference, with no publications from it).

This particular research study began during the 2001-02 school year while I was the CDLI’s Web-Based Initiatives Facilitator in my own school district. It came about because one of the main aspects of the CDLI web-based delivery model during that first year was the initial lack of synchronous communication. While synchronous instruction began on a regular basis in February, it was primarily instructor-driven. And while there were no official student-driven synchronous tools, in some cases the students took it upon themselves to create synchronous networks using different instant messaging tools. The first evidence of this occurred in the asynchronous discussion forum within WebCT. In early October there were six messages posted by the students discussing how to contact each other using ICQ and another four messages concerning MSN Messenger. These threads continued until the middle to late October. This was following in late November by a discussion on the use of the Groove software. This thread contained twelve different postings and continued until early December. It was from this student-initiated discussion that the idea for this study came about.
The purpose of this particular study was to investigate the use of Instant Messaging (IM) usage among students as a means of community building in an e-Learning environment. In addition to the students in this single course during the CDLI’s first year of operation, a second sample of students enrolled in a different course during the second year of operation were also included in an effort to address the following research questions:

  1. What are the implications of IM usage for e-Teachers as online learning continues to grow?
  2. Which IM tools will students use to further their learning online?
  3. Will the use of IM tools increase students’ chances of success via e-Learning?
The general trends that were found from the student responses to the survey that they completed, indicated that IM was a tool that students felt comfortable in utilizing, given the amount of use during their personal time. It was also found that students personally felt that IM assisted both in their learning and their sense of “knowing” their virtual classmates. Finally, based on these trends we recommended that e-teachers should give consideration to adopting a more formal role for IM in their e-Learning environments.
As it was probably best described by own of the students in a survey response:

“I think that if instant messaging was more widely used for online courses, it may allow students to have more contact with their teachers, and for them to get more help with their assignments, or the work that they are doing in the chapter at any given time. vClass is good, but there are only certain times that it can be used. Also, vClass may not fit on most home computers (and is harder to use on dial-up). With IM, it could be accessed at any time, and would be a lot easier.”

(For more information, see Cooze & Barbour, 2003.)

Selected Bibliography

Cooze, M., Barbour, M. (2003). Usage of instant messaging as a means of community building in eLearning environments. Paper presented at the annual Canadian Association for Distance Education conference, St. John’s, NL.

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