Discourse framing and presentation

Reflecting on the difference between the discourse in the Ultraversity First Class conferences and the Hotseat tool, I am struck again by the ‘tangible’ difference in the learning experience that different online tools can provide. The fragmented nature of FC conversations is in stark contrast to the rich flow of ideas possible where contributions are displayed sequentially on the same page. Take a look at an screenshot of the Hotseat Tool and FC to get an idea about what I mean. It is also worth pointing out that there are a range of bulletin board systems that fall somewhere on a continuum between the two.

The advantages are the ability to quickly scan up and down as one might when trying to understand a complex section in a book. This helps not just with reading and understanding, but also with the composing of contributions and replies. Indeed, this seems to be such an obvious difference that I wonder why anyone would through choice build software that didnít have this facility!

So in terms of Ultralab mantras, it would seem to support the view of the importance of discourse presentation – simple and obvious but overlooked by many online communication software developers. Work at Ultralab on online community tools such as Think.com and subsequent use in online communities have demonstrated this point clearly. The ability to display contributions in a wide range of ways that offer some of the opportunities enjoyed in f2f settings is important. For example, small group work, presentations, debating ideas and issues, brainstorming ideas, etc. are all strategies that teachers employ on a daily basis as a means of facilitating learning amongst students. Indeed, the asynchronisity offered by online environments offers yet another dimension in that it can be used to promote considered reflection of a depth that is perhaps less easy to encourage in f2f conversations.

It is here that issues of framing discourse become intertwined with issues of presentation. How can online discourses be set up in such a way as to give the maximum potential for success using the tools that are available. The more limiting the tools, the less rich the experience available for designers of learning experiences.

Another take on this is from the angle of learning protocols. This document has a list of some of the ones that I have used before. They were developed with a colleague Rita Walker for a specific purpose, but you may find them useful as a starting point.

8 thoughts on “Discourse framing and presentation

  1. Nick Billowes

    Hi Stephen
    Really useful addition to the debate on effective discourse and appropriate tools to enable effective engagement. This would be a good discussion to have with Ann Trewern and also the schools out there who ar beginning down this road with various LMS / BBS systems

  2. EveT

    I find the hotseat tool does ‘add value’ and aid learning by keeping the thread in one place – you can refresh your memory by reading down and then have all the other points available to refer back to on one screen.
    The colours help as well – although not perhaps well explained.
    The size of the box makes it difficult to compose the response – it’s ok if you work in notepad first and cut and paste into the tool.

  3. Richard Millwood

    Well said. I outline this and other ideas in discourse framing in my page at http://improbability.ultralab.net/ddk/ I have also started a rather poor paper on this which might get published soon – perhaps in my blog!? Either way you have gone into more depth and made better reference to learning than I have in my rather sparse, analytic way.

  4. Carole Chapman

    The importance of this structure is in raising the level of debate from discussion to dialogue. As Leonie would say allowing all the contributions to appear in one place together enables flow to develop and collaborative enlightenment (an ‘ah’ moment)

  5. Stephen Powell

    Thanks for your thoughts. Of course, colleagues at Ultralab have been chewing this kind of stuff over long before I knew what a computer was. Hopefully, Blogs like this enable us to share the thoughts with a wider audience.

  6. Andy

    I’ve written a blog entry which considers “Forums vs Threaded Discussions” in response to this article here, and the experience of the Nancy White hotseat. The comment from Pete Bradshaw is on exactly the right liines in my opinion.

    I think I may even have created my first “trackback ping” to here, although I’m not exactly sure how all that works yet – it’s in my PDP to find out though!

  7. Ann Trewern

    Finally found your weblog again Stephen ( in the course of trying to find my own which I cannot ) and finally have some time to contribute to your mantra comments that I looked at some time ago.

    Can’t agree with your comments above more Stephen.

    The importance of discourse presentation:

    This is something I feel I have gone on about consistently for the past couple of years without ever having the feeling of ever having been listened to.

    …and overlooked by many online communication software developers!

    Excellent comment this. Why? Because mostly the backroom boffin boyz are rarely required to talk to anybody who actually uses their product. Every software developer and decision maker in this area needs to read and have as a standard design bible – Donald Norman’s book “The design of everyday things!” and Jakob Nielsen’s – “Usability Engineering” apply some of the principles of user evaluations and ask, ask, ask, how the people using the system are finding it.

    This is sadly lacking in a lot of learning management/ knowldege building software systems.

  8. Ann

    Back to discourse presentation:

    “The more limiting the tools, the less rich the experience available for designers of learning experiences”

    Exactly! Can you really say this any other way! A really good example of this is the discussion tool in Talk2learn and compare it to the discussion tool used in Web Crossing!
    Adults using these learning environments for professional learning purposes need very finely grained tools to work with. The difference in the learning experience between the discussion tools in these two software is comparable to using a telephone and bush radio. In Talk2learn the hotseat tool is so clumsy and so limiting in what can be achieved that members can never take ownership of a discussion. The tool really only allows for a thoughtleader to take center stage and the members to become actors in a question and answer process. NOT real discussion! Threading is vital in adult environments where you require reflection around complex ideas. Interesting for example in the CPSquare community to watch the threading process that occurs in Web Crossing when the conversation looks to become sidetracked. That allows for ownership. Heavens I would love to be able to do that in our T2L community.

    Also important is to consider the kinds of intermittent use member make of these environments. You must be able to join a thread even when it is part way through or revive it if it has become defunct and you have not been able to get to it. That means members have to be able to respond to a response. Also needed is user choice in how conversations are viewed – an index view and a browse view – what you call here a hotset view Stephen I think.

    Oh well.


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