Visualisation of Interactions in Online
Collaborative Learning Environments.
PhD thesis, National University of Ireland Maynooth.
Much research in recent years has focused on the introduction of ‘Virtual Learning
Environments’ (VLE’s) to universities, documenting practice and sharing experience.
Communicative tools are the means by which VLE’s have the potential to transform
learning with computers from being passive and transmissive in nature, to being active
and constructivist. Attention has been directed towards the importance of online dialogue
as a defining feature of the VLE. However, practical methods of reviewing and analysing
online communication to encode and trace cycles of real dialogue (and learning) have
proved somewhat elusive. Qualitative methods are under-used for VLE discussions, since
they demand new sets of research skills for those unfamiliar with those methods.
Additionally, it can be time-intensive to learn them.
This thesis aims to build an improved and simple-to-use analytical tool for Moodle that
will aid and support teachers and administrators to understand and analyse interaction
patterns and knowledge construction of the participants involved in ongoing online
interactions. After reviewing the strengths and shortcomings of the existing visualisation
models, a new visualisation tool called the Virtual Interaction Mapping System (VIMS)
is proposed which is based on a framework proposed by Schrire (2004) to graphically
represent social presence and manage the online communication patterns of the learners
using Moodle. VIMS produces multiple possible views of interaction data so that it can
be evaluated from many perspectives; it can be used to represent interaction data both
qualitatively and quantitatively. The units of analysis can be represented graphically and
numerically for more extensive evaluation. Specifically, these indicators are
communication type, participative level, meaningful content of discussion, presence of
lurkers, presence of moderators, and performance of participants individually and as a
group. It thus enables assessment of the triangular relationship between conversationcontent,
online participation and learning
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