178 paper

Learning through online discussions: A focus on discourse analysis and language functions

Dai Fei Yang, Peter Goodyear
Faculty of Education and Social Work
The University of Sydney

This paper examines how an online postgraduate program made use of a discussion forum to engage students in meaningful discussions. The authors aim to capture and extract elements of its success using detailed discourse analysis, informed by systemic functional linguistic (SFL) theory. This involves examining three domains: first, the ideational experience when students construct the content of postings in which they present their social and ideational positions, philosophical beliefs and ideas; second, the interpersonal experience when students construe their social relationship with their readers/audience; third, the textual organisation of their discussion texts in relation to the language patterns and linguistic resources that emerged when their texts unfold. Through detailed discourse analysis, the paper illustrates two examples of the use of hedging and metaphor to provide an insight into the good practice shared by students, and how text functions in online discussions. We find that students, by using various linguistic resources, such as hedging and metaphors, share their experience and pre-knowledge to develop solidarity and authorial voice. In conclusion, the SFL framework presented in this paper provides a valuable tool for the description and analysis of online discourse. However, at the social interpersonal level and the ideational level we need to develop a more comprehensive model for analysing texts generated in the highly complex process in online learning and discussions.

Keywords: online discourse analysis, hedging and metaphor, knowledge construction, epistemic games, epistemic activities, language skills, cognitive skills