Scaffolded Help for Learning: How Experts Collaboratively Support Newcomer Participation in Online Communities
ACM Press, New York
Online communities, often in the form of discussion forums, encapsulate the very notion of "doing good with technology" by serving as a conduit for help-seeking and problem-solving by users who volunteer their time and effort. One form of helping is assisting others with learning new content, an under-examined topic within the context of online communities, and in this paper we present a study investigating how online discussion forums go beyond informational support and guide newcomers' learning. We analyzed a forum dedicated to helping newcomers learn the programming language Java™. Using an empirical approach that combined analysis of forum data with interviews with expert we found that experts consciously and collaboratively scaffolded newcomers' learning by creating shared understanding, providing ongoing diagnosis, and fading their help over time. Multiple resources were leveraged for scaffolding and learners often received personalized instruction through collaborative contributions of multiple experts on the forum.