Example of an assigned task
Sixteen of the 21 students enrolled in the course consented to participate in the study; thus a total of 10 groups were analyzed (see Table 1). Groups with members who did not consent to participate in the study were not analyzed. All but two of the students (Alissa and Lola) had prior experience with online group work; all but three (Alissa, Lola, and Jaclyn) were members of the same cohort. A professor from the educational psychology department and a graduate assistant taught the course. Neither instructor was involved in the data analysis for this study.
Guidelines given to groups
This case study was designed according to principles outlined by Merriam (1998), with a computer-mediated discourse analysis (CMDA) approach used to investigate the research questions (Herring, 2004; Paulus, 2004). Data were selected using a motivated sample (Herring, 2004). After the course ended, transcripts of all communication that took place were analyzed,2 regardless of whether it occurred prior to or after the official two week period. Chat and forum transcripts were automatically archived by the course management system and downloaded for analysis. Email correspondence was saved by the instructor and students and sent to the researchers. Individual reflection papers were also downloaded from the course management system.
To answer the first research question, the number of functional moves exchanged in each mode was calculated to give an overall picture of how groups utilized the tools. To answer the second research question, each move was coded as either conceptual or nonconceptual in nature. Conceptual moves addressed the understanding of the learning theory being studied during the unit. Nonconceptual moves were related to logistical issues, technical concerns or social exchanges (see Table 2). A Pearson chi-square (Pearson χ2) two-way contingency table analysis was conducted to evaluate whether communication mode (forum, chat, or email) was related to the type of move (conceptual or nonconceptual).
To answer the third research question, all of the conceptual moves were further coded as one of the five phases of knowledge construction (Gunawardena et al., 1997). A Pearson chi-square (Pearson χ2) two-way contingency table analysis was also conducted to evaluate whether choice of mode was related to the early or later phases of knowledge construction (Phase 1 or Phases 2–5).