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Title: Intercultural discourse in virtual learning environments
Author: Dolatabadi, Hamid Reza
Awarding Body: University of Exeter
Current Institution: University of Exeter
Date of Award: 2010
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The potential of community building through computer-mediated communication (CMC) in virtual learning environments has received increasing attention in recent years, yet little empirical research has been conducted in this field in Middle Eastern countries particularly based on a social constructivist approach as in this case. This research is concerned with the processes of community building as experienced by university students in computer-mediated distance education classes in Iran. Its overarching concern was to see if convergence happens in an on-line university discussion forum in a Middle Eastern cultural context, and if so, to explore how it happens and with what strategies it can be supported in such environment. The research addressed the role of collaborative interaction as the process of co-construction of knowledge and identities, by looking at: (i) the students’ beliefs as reflected in a survey; (ii) patterns and outcomes of interaction derived from an analysis of on-line transactions; (iii) students’ perspectives based on interviews and their responses to a survey. The participants came from four different Middle Eastern cultural and linguistic backgrounds and were all students studying at Masters Level. The academic context was an Iranian university that has a large face-to-face student population as well as a large number of distance students. The participants’ common meeting ground was primarily a virtual environment created for the students to share their learning experience and to communicate with each other and the tutors. The participants’ beliefs and ideas in terms of choice, opportunity, culture and expectations were examined through a survey in the first phase of the study. Then, to investigate their roles in shaping the on-line community, an additional university e-forum was designed and implemented by the researcher in the second phase of the study. In this forum the participants were free to contact each other without pre-planned tasks or interventions by the class tutors. Social constructivist approaches were used to analyse interactions between students and the outcomes of these interactions. The findings suggest that participants moved their communicative competence from tangible topics towards shaping new beliefs and ideas; creating the VSD-Virtual Social Development- model. These developments are regarded as something unique for an area such as the Middle East where gaining confidence is hard especially when there is no face-to-face contact with other participants, and individuals often have concerns about revealing their real personalities in untried situations. The findings of the interviews support the findings of the second phase of the study and show what strategies the participants used in community building. The research also highlighted many issues for further study, one of which is the various interpretations of the concept of community building in on-line contexts.
Supervisor: Postlethwaite, Keith ; Levinson, Martin ; Dillon, Patrick ; MacDonald, Malcolm Sponsor: Ministry of Science, Research and Technology, Iran
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Discourse ; Pragmatics ; social constructivist approach ; computer mediated communication ; Virtual Learning Environments ; Culture ; Middle Eastern Studies ; Iran