Analysis of graduate student attitudes towards computer-mediated communication.
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Computer-Mediated Communication is a relatively new methodology in the arsenal of universities in their quest to educate graduate students. It has advantages and disadvantages, all documented in some detail in the prevailing literature. This literature documents the insecurities and fears that learners have in putting their ideas down irrevocably in print without recourse to body language or the option of changing their mind in the midst of a face-to-face conversation. Others fear the phenomenon of posting their ideas to a bulletin board type of conference and being ignored by both their fellow learners and their instructors. Much has been written about the types of learners that are drawn to CMC, and their competency with the technology involved in this type of learning. It has been suggested that lack of familiarity could be a limiting factor in their success. Others have written about the confusing aspect of reading text on a screen and of the confusing nature of computer conferencing systems. Because of the asynchronous nature of CMC, prospective CMC learners are worried about the amount of time that must be spent sitting in front of a computer when participating in CMC sessions. Because of this, it is of prime importance to find out if participants in CMC learning have the ability to use time and equipment at their places of work for this purpose and if this is generally sanctioned or prohibited in the workplace. The amount of interaction with instructors and fellow learners is an important aspect of CMC, whether too much or too little is a limiting factor to good learning attitudes. How do learners on CMC sites respond to criticism or overly aggressive fellow learners and how many are aware of the dangers of flaming? Should course designers factor this into their course designs? These and other questions are addressed in this study. A questionnaire containing 48 questions was posted on the internet at a site which limited participation to Athabasca University MDE students. One hundred and fifty responses were received and tabulated to provide statistical data on the relative importance of 46 scenarios which these graduate students face in their CMC studies. The findings of this study should be of interest to CMC course designers in their quest to improve the design of these courses. This study concluded that the group of graduate students from Athabasca University’s MDE program consider themselves to be a sophisticated and very computer literate group. They are confident and well supported by families or partners and they are not at all concerned about making errors in text submissions to conferences. They are often kind, caring and consider themselves to be very aware of the dangers of ‘flaming’ on-line. They still prefer text-based material over digital methods to store their important concepts and are very results oriented. They also wish to have their postings noticed and responded to within twenty-four hours on their conferences.