Interaction and control in asynchronous computer-mediated communication in a distance education context.

Open Access
Anderson, William George
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 05, 2003
Committee Members:
  • Michael Grahame Moore, Committee Chair
  • Gary Kuhne, Committee Member
  • Steve L Thorne, Committee Member
  • Edgar Paul Yoder, Committee Member
  • asynchronous
  • control
  • computer-medicated communication
  • interaction
  • distance education
  • higher education
  • teacher edcuation
Since the late 1980s there has been large-scale implementation of distance education courses involving interaction between students and faculty through the use of computer mediated communication. This communication potential has allowed interaction between students and faculty, in their own time and at their own pace, to pervade distance courses in ways not available in distance education before (Moore, 1993, p.33), and has brought renewed attention to interaction within distance education theory. Alongside this attention is recognition that the related concerns of control and power arise from an acknowledgement of interaction as a core component in distance education theory. In particular, Evans and Nation (1989) draw on Giddens to frame distance learners as meaning makers employed in a process of negotiation in which power and control must be central concepts. The purpose of this study was to elaborate theoretical understandings, through the use of a grounded theoretical approach, that explain the relationship between the concept of control and interaction within the teaching learning process in a distance education course. The site for the study was a program of teacher education in a New Zealand university. The work of Moore, and Garrison and Baynton provided initial framing for the identification, description and interpretation of student experiences of interaction within their distance education courses. Grounded theory methods were used in data analysis. The ongoing interplay between data collection and data analysis enabled the further development and generation of categories for analysis. The findings were presented in three sections. The first focused on the participants and their understandings of themselves as distance students; the second on their perception of interaction in their course and its effects on both cognitive and affective dimensions of their work; the third on control in interaction in terms of personal agency, control exercised by others, and the wider institutional, social and technological impacts. I found that while an asynchronous computer mediated communication environment does afford the possibility of positive valued collaborative interaction for learning between students and faculty, and between students, that form of interaction between students is most likely to occur where students are interacting in an environment that enables the creation of hyperpersonal interaction (Walther, 1996). The asynchronous computer mediated communication environment affords lecturers greater possibility of control over the nature and content of student messages, but students also tailor their own involvement in interaction to minimize the impact of the lecturer’s gaze, to maximize the benefit they gain for learning and to reduce the distraction of messages that might confuse or obfuscate that learning. I also argue that as full time distance students, participants are more likely to engage in interaction with their peers than part-time distance students because of their relative isolation from other support networks, and thus they are drawn to form a community of learners that provides valuable affective support. Finally, the data indicate that use of a single technology places limits on the interaction possibilities available to students who act to extend the range of interaction capabilities supporting their education. The process of the research is discussed and limitations of the study are noted. Finally I provide recommendations for further research.