Ferguson (2010)

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Ferguson, R., Whitelock, D. and Littleton, K. (2010). Improvable objects and attached dialogue: new literacy practices employed by learners to build knowledge together in asynchronous settings. Digital Culture & Education, 2:1,103-123

This study identifies new literacy practices afforded by online tools such as conferences and forums. In particular it analyses the potential of these practices for developing exploratory dialogue, a particular form of talk seen as critical for collaborative understanding. It takes a socio-constructivist approach and incorporates the notion of using ‘improvable objects’ as the basis for knowledge building.

The study uses sociocultural discourse analysis and visual analysis of three six-week long online conferences. This provides evidence of the following new literacy practices:

  • Improvable objects in the form of attachments to the main postings, which are worked on collaboratively by all students. The imperative to end up with a single version means challenges must be resolved
  • ‘Attached dialogue’ takes place through the medium of these attachments. It enables the clear and explicit presentation of ideas, together with challenges, counter challenges, analysis, evaluation and explanation
  • ‘Attached dialogue’ can sometimes lead to a challenge being mounted unwittingly because students haven’t read an attachment. Asynchronous dialogue therefore allows exploratory talk to happen accidentally – mounting the challenge is sometimes less work than avoiding it. Once there, the challenge is hard to ignore
  • Typographic variation – allows characteristic elements of exploratory dialogue to be interwoven – active participation, justifications, alternative views, visible reasoning
  • In one case a comparison table was made by a student which showed all the different and conflicting comments that the group had made – this made it easier for the group to compare understandings and to collaborate clearly

The study concludes by suggesting that educators in online environments recognise that new literacy practices are needed to maximise their potential and that they both model them and incorporate them into their learning outcomes