Achieving transactional computer-mediated conferencing or : how to produce a highly interactive online discussion

Brant KNUTZEN, David Miles KENNEDY

Research output: Book Chapters | Papers in Conference ProceedingsConference paper (refereed)Researchpeer-review


A common failing of eLearning instructional design is when online discussion learning activities devolve to become just a "public assignment": each student posts once and no peer interaction is achieved. This study shows how instructors can successfully design an eLearning environment to increase student engagement and achieve transactive communication, where a discussion develops as participants respond to teach other: giving feedback, taking positions, and bringing in evidence to socially negotiate new knowledge. Despite the widespread recognition of transactive communication as a goal of Computer-Mediated Conferencing (CMC), online discussions often merely consist of individual answers to a question posed, without any interaction (or even recognition) of the work of other students. A graphical depiction of this learning activity would look like a "lawn", with short individual blades of grass - no branching, no vertical building, none of the "bushiness" of a highly transactive discussion. This paper develops new quantitative and qualitative ways to measure discussion transactivity, and examines the instructional design that supports and encourages this type of learning activity. This paper examines a case study of CMC transactivity at a university using 1-to-1 computer access (each student has a computer on their desk) in a blended teaching environment in Hong Kong. Four variables were examined for their effect on successful student engagement in online discussions: Teacher facilitation of social grouping of students Class time to initiate online discussion interaction Setting open-ended, challenging topic questions that encourage discussion and debate Assessment system that reinforces production and peer interaction The students in the case study used the Moodle eLearning environment, and English as the medium of instruction. The study took place in a tertiary institution with graduate students in the faculty of Education, using a blend of face-to-face and eLearning instructional methods. When the instructional environment was set up to support all four discussion design conditions, production and interactivity both increased dramatically and transactive CMC was achieved. The results of this study indicate that in order to achieve highly productive and transactive online discussions in a blended 1-to-1 teaching environment, instructors should incorporate a specific set of design conditions. When these instructional design conditions are successfully incorporated, the potential benefits of social constructivism as an instructional design paradigm can be realized within a blended educational environment.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 5th International Conference on E-Learning
PublisherAcademic Publishing Ltd
Number of pages17
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2010

Bibliographical note

Paper presented at the 5th International Conference on e-Learning, Jul 12-13, 2010, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, Malaysia.
ISBN of the source publication: 9781906638689


  • Discourse
  • Educational Dialogue
  • Social Negotiation
  • Transactivity


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