Monday, 27 July 2009

The enforcement of rational chat

InterLoc (formerly AcademicTalk) is a tool for synchronous online discussion, or chat, which has been specifically designed to force participants to follow the rules of rational academic discussion.

Its creators, Andrew Ravenscroft and Simon McAlister, were responding to concerns about the low levels of online debate - not only in public chatrooms, where dialogue can often take the form of "You suck!" "No, you suck!", but even in organised student discussions, where the tendency is for students to give each other an easy time and resort to "trading" opinions ("I think this." "I think that." "Okay, shall we go for a drink now?")

The InterLoc interface forces participants to start each message with one of a number of prescribed openers, not only to state a position ("I think...", "Let me explain...") but to ask questions ("Why do you think that...?" "Can you give an example...?") and make challenges ("I disagree because...", "An alternative view is...", "How reliable is that evidence...?) Student discussions with InterLoc are found to stay more on topic and go deeper than synchronous discussions conducted without it; in particular, students seem to be more willing to question and challenge each other when socially protected by the formal structure of the system.

Of course this goes directly against the cultural assumptions of freedom and spontaneity associated with online discussion and chat in particular, and some students reported resenting the restrictive openers. But as the authors comment: "It is only by being restrictive in some degree that they will have a positive benefit for the student, by forcing them to reformulate intuitive, reactive thoughts into a more well crafted and, hopefully, thoughtful contribution" (Final report, p. 37)

The InterLoc project's website includes details of publications as well as the latest version of the tool and links to other users. The list of message openers used in the original AcademicTalk is published as an appendix to McAlister, Ravenscroft and Scanlon (2004), "Combining interaction and context design to support collaborative argumentation using a tool for synchronous CMC", Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 20, pp 194-204.

No comments:

Post a Comment