Managing discussion group dynamics in e-learning environments
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This paper examines the challenges involved in understanding group dynamics when utilising online teaching platforms, such as WebCT. When the student cohort involved is studying professionally oriented technical subjects, people who have prior knowledge of this professional area may exhibit behaviours which overwhelm other students. In traditional face-to-face tutorial and workshop environments, teachers are able to interact with students, ensuring that they have a comfortable environment in which to contribute and learn. This may involve bringing them out of themselves when they appear intimidated and re-directing them when they threaten to dominate. Teachers can interpret body language and use their own body language and facial expressions as well as verbal comment to maintain a student-centred learning environment. It is much more difficult to influence the dynamics of online discussion. Our experience at Curtin has shown that the potential for intimidation of students leading to their non-participation is stronger than in the classroom, especially when prior professional knowledge and experience is involved. This outcome is opposite to expectations of web communication, usually believed to be an environment where people can overcome the constraints of their personality and participate in discussion more easily. Reasons this may occur will be examined together with techniques for ensuring that students are afforded an equitable learning environment.
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