CALRG Conf: Size matters

Rebecca Ferguson on ‘use of visual elements to support knowledge construction in asynchronous dialogue’.

Currently works on Social Learn project, but this work is from her PhD.  About collaborative learning online – asynchronous dialogue. Cooperation, collaboration – discussion, debate and community. Study was on FirstClass (OU tool), but also as used on Flickr discussions, Twitter, Cloudworks.

Real-world situation has more ‘backchannel’ communication – non-language aspects. Gestures, gaze, affect. Contention that there is less of this online.

Textual example – concrete poem, changes the form and content. (example Roger McGough 1971 ’40-love’). Example of journal article analysing it – with page break in the middle of it. It’s hard to talk about these things in academic contexts – the journal insists on its own format, colour, size, pagination, flow. When she writes things up, has to put text in to images to ensure it is displayed correctly.

Theoretical framework – Kress & van Leeuwen (2006) on visual analysis.

Reading paths – are widely known within the culture; can tell when it’s not correct – start in top-left. Reading a Japanese Manga comic is hard if you’re not acculturated to it. Similar/parallel devices in other contexts like journal articles.

Her research on extended learning online at the OU, all on First Class (now superseded by Moodle/VLE). Postings have framings, contexts – header, letter-style format, etc.

Example – separating out ideas with framing. Some structuring not possible in face-to-face. Reply highlighting – again, online possible online to give that structure. Subtle indications about importance.

Seems obvious to people who know how to do this – but not everyone does it well without learning. But can do complex and subtle work around authority and responsibility through quoting, complimenting, mirroring, showing empathy.

Another example of a huge discussion managed through use of colour, headings, layout.

Was talking to Moodle development team, had decided to switch off things like colour, size and so on, because not very important (!).

Many people make huge use of these, they are important.

Size matters – and colour, and layout – without them the sense is lost.


Jon Rosewell: Different students working differently on FirstClass – was it a client versus web-interface issue?

Rebecca: Could be. But was clear in different groups – if someone (usually the tutor) was modelling those behaviour, other people would tend to follow. But if nobody led, nobody did it. Also carried things over from one piece of software to another. So not entirely about the software default setup.

Ruslan: Synchronous communication – students agreeing when to come together for e.g. live voice interaction. We know that’s important. Were there examples of that? Mobile, landlines?

Rebecca: Were certain times when groups came together synchronously, or tried to. Not so much phone. Did do in FirstClass, or IM – when had a time-limited decision to make, or a hard deadline. Didn’t manage to get everybody together because of other demands on their time. Was all assessed collaborative work – so tutor guided them away from e.g. email – some baseline marks for participation online.

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Author: dougclow

Academic in the Institute of Educational Technology, the Open University, UK. Interested in technology-enhanced learning and learning analytics.