Collaborative writing in multiple discourse contexts
Research in computer-supported writing has traditionally compared electronic communication with oral, face-to-face communication to identify the benefits and weaknesses of each, as if they entailed dichotomous choices. In this article, we challenge that view and argue instead that any form of communication and its educational usefulness is shaped by the situation in which it is used, the backgrounds and goals of the participants, the institutional and technological setup, and the intended purpose of the medium. Three modes of communication in one graduate course are examined — oral discussion, synchronous written discussion on a local area network, and asynchronous written postings on an email list set up for the class. It was found that patterns of participation, topic introduction, and topic development differed across the three communication modes, but that the three were interwoven with each other and embedded within the larger classroom context and forms of knowledge creation in the class. Thus, rather than examining different communication media separately, researchers interested in understanding computer-supported collaborative writing need to look at how different media are used to create a “meta-medium,” which is established by the discourse community involved.