Participation and non-participation in computer mediated conferencing: a case study.
Taylor, Daniel O.
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Interaction amongst learners has been identified as a critical element in the learning process. It has been argued that distance education practice, because of geographical separation and dependence upon media for communication has been offered limited opportunity for interpersonal interaction. However, with the aid of recently introduced computer communications, distance learners now have the potential to interact with other learners, wherever they are, and whenever it is convenient. Yet, despite the benefits offered by computer mediated communication, there are reports that many of the learners in computer conferences do not actively participate or participate minimally and that the majority of messages are contributed by a disproportionate few. Two hypotheses to explain this phenomenon have been offered in the literature; the absence of critical nonverbal elements that are found in face to face communication; and a perceived higher standard for the written word than the spoken word. Those factors may lead to communication apprehension and non-participation by certain individuals. This study utilized a single case study research design to investigate the reasons for varying levels of participation in computer conferencing and to examine whether there is a relationship between communication apprehension and levels of participation in computer conferences. Fifty-two subjects from a sample of 126 adult learners in three graduate distance education courses responded by completing two questionnaires. Participants answered questions about their general conferencing activity and the extent to which certain factors influenced their frequency of message contribution. Data analyses of questionnaire responses revealed no significant relationships with two exceptions. Low participation students (lurkers) were more likely to report that; a) time limitations related to their jobs influenced their participation to a considerable extent; and, b) that they often found their opinion had already been expressed by another student. Student responses to the questionnaire are discussed and possible explanations are considered. Limitations of the study are described and further research activities are proposed.