Category Archives: Communities of Practice

Conversation is not Dead – using threads for discourse

This may go against the grain of those versed in dialogues and rhetoric based on classical systems, but debating – as far as I can see it – is dependent on the ability of people to frame contributions synchronously. A huge affordance of Technologies for Learning is the asynchonous: being able to self-edit and convey exactly what we want to communicate carefully. This is helpful, since it saves time and tangents in discourse, where others deviate by leaping on mistakes made by some in articulating points succinctly.

Discussion threads, such as wall posts, around VLEs or MOOCS or on Twitter, tend to be asynchonous, people can return to them and they are continuous. This helps let people in who cannot think on their feet and who may be shy to contribute in oral discussions. Threads can have impact on inclusive practice via mobile dialogue sustained over time in continuous dialogues through social media. A theoretical formula for online discussion threads aimed towards learning goals follows that arises originally from Habermas Theory of Commuicative Actions (1981), which categorised communciation types in how we negotiate the social world.

Warren and Wakefield‘s Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions builds on Habermas’ original premises:

  • Normative actions – best understood as ‘norms’ or regulated behaviours, conduct, or what a teacher outlines for correct procedure and expectation, i.e. ‘no swearing in the thread, keep contributions focused and/or responsive to others comments, challenge but justify providing further information where possible, etc.’. A contract of obligation and agreement is established; though fairly standard, if negotiated with students, this can have empowering and equalising functions.
  • Strategic actions – directions of what to do phrased as imperatives (i.e. ‘submit proposal by Friday’) from teacher to student group. According to Warren and Wakefield, they are framed with two resulting options: Accept/Reject. These actions reinforce the authority of the instructor in a sense, since if the imperative is accepted, then the student recognises it as ‘useful’ to their objects. In my analysis of social networks for learning, these are the primary responsibilities of a teacher, but more advanced students can support the context, activity and peers by issuing clarification, reminder notifications, or tips to others on how best to be organised or complete work.
  • Constative actions – this is where dialogue forms into discussion threads, with members posting ‘claims to truth’ which can lead to rejection and counter-claims, aimed at realising the negotiation and constructive critique of theoretical understanding between agents in challenging validity and providing evidence or further discourse. An instructor should have a discrete presence, acting as mediator as required and helping to summarise or seek clarification; this is probably served best where an instructor begins by posing truth claims, i.e. ‘Romeo and Juliet are responsible for all the subsequent violence in the play’.
  • Dramaturgical communicative actions – individualised expressions of what Habermas labelled Lifeworld: the internal realities of member agents. In Warren and Stein’s (2008) view, these may take shape as creative materials arising reflectively from the dialogue, framed around subjective experience but integrating and applying what has been discussed into multimodal literacies (posters, poems, art works). We may possibly see these as User Generated Content in other formats and prgrammes, or as assessable objects arising from Activity.

Much of this is based on classroom practice and the actions appear limited. I would add to this by recommending a Problem-based real world communicative actions approach, particularly in FE, vocational or HE, so scenarios become the context for discussion, i.e. for teacher training ‘the use of social media enables greater differentiation with summative assessment of programmes of study’ as a truth claim, but accompanied by a list of profiles of learners with tangible difficulties, such as students with dyslexia, second-language learners, students wishing to personalise assignments, those who have difficulty with attendance, etc.

Further, inclusivity to this could be enhanced through applying the Thinking Circles restorative practices, particularly in early stages with the promotion of all members to make a formal greeting, response , contribution or by acknowledging the presence of all members, in line with the first stage of Gilly Salmon‘s model of e-learning, so that discussions don’t become galleries of disrespect, like the House of Commons (based very much on the Oxbridge models of ‘He who scoffs loudest to the shrillest jeers’). This can enable curation of discussions by members themselves, rather than the teacher, and encourage the confidence of lurkers or ‘legitimate peripheral participants‘ who, in an oral classroom discursive context, may become frozen as spectators to others dominance.

Wakefield and Warren – Learning and Teaching as Communicative Actions: Social Media as Educational Tool, from Using Social Media Effectively in the Classroom, 2013, by Kay Kyeong-ju Seo (Routledge).





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