Definition and Genesis of an Online Discourse Community

By Marcella Kehus, Kelley Walters and Melanie Shaw.

Published by The Learner Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

This case study examined how the form and function of a web-based environment for adolescent writers supported their writing and interactions around writing. The study focused on a group of adolescent writers given a private, non-anonymous space to interact online and potentially form a discourse community. As participant observer, the researcher used naturalistic inquiry to study the participants’ use of web site and to build grounded theory from this specific virtual discourse community. Using a sociocultural lens, this study has its roots in genre theory with an emphasis on the social context of writing and the action that writing is used to accomplish. The case was analyzed on two levels. First, it provided thick description of the genesis of this community over a six-month period through analysis of major events and trends. This genesis was ultimately described in four phases: orientation, experimentation, productivity, and transformation. Second, discourse analysis of these interactions revealed how discourse community paralleled or differed from existing definitions of communities and how facilitation and design enabled or constrained participants in the process of forming community. Implications from this study extend to educators, researchers, and technological innovators alike. For educators, this study describes how adolescents might utilize such an online forum and how this could be educative along with offering insight into community building in general. Educative implications include the dynamic role of the facilitator, the importance of ownership and common purpose and social ties as well as building on the knowledge and values adolescents bring with them. This study also closely examined how technological design served to enable or constrain a virtual community in terms of factors such as privacy, a lack of anonymity, and technology’s role as a mediating tool. For researchers, this case study exemplifies genre theory in action within a specific discourse community and identifies avenues for further inquiry. Furthermore, this study explores methodology and theory at the intersections of literacy and technology.

Keywords: Online Community, Social Network, Discourse Community, Community of Practice, Learning Community

The International Journal of Learning, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp.67-86. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.104MB).

Dr. Marcella Kehus

Assistant Professor, Judith Herb College of Education, Department of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Toledo, Toledo, OH, USA

After studying for her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Michigan State University, Marcella Kehus received her Ph.D. in Reading and Language Arts from Oakland University in 2000. Having taught middle school language arts for over thirteen years, and high school English for five years, all in Berkley, Michigan, she is now an Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at The University of Toledo in Ohio. At the university level, she teaches Multicultural Literature, Content Area Reading and other literacy courses in the Judith Herb College of Education. Her research interests focus on Multicultural Book Clubs as third space wherein children from diverse backgrounds can build from their own funds of knowledge and cultures to access the Discourse of school and power. Dr. Kehus is the author of articles in professional publications such as the Journal for Adolescent and Adult Literacy, The Reading Teacher, and Language Arts. She presents at numerous conferences including the International Reading Association, National Reading Conference, American Anthropological Association, and Michigan Reading Association. She also consults with various school districts in both staff and curriculum development.

Dr. Kelley Walters

Specialization Coordinator, CIA, Ed.D. & CIPD, Ed.S. Programs, Richard W. Riley College of Education and Leadership, Walden University, Minneapolis, MN, USA

With teaching, administrative, and professional development training experience in both PK-12 and Higher Education systems, Dr. Walters brings a wealth of knowledge and skill to the field of education. She has worked in online education with several universities, including Walden, over the last several years and has enjoyed success as an educational consultant. Before going into consulting, Dr. Walters was an elementary principal and teacher. Winning numerous awards and grants for her entrepreneurial efforts in education, Dr. Walters has excelled in research and evaluation, program and curriculum development, and online and delivery systems. Dr. Walters received her Ph.D. in Reading and Language Arts from Oakland University, her M.A. in Reading from Michigan State University, and holds an Online Teaching Certificate from Northcentral University.

Dr. Melanie Shaw

Faculty Mentor, School of Education, Northcentral University, Belleville, Illinois, USA

Melanie Shaw has over ten years of educational experience ranging from classroom and graduate level teaching to counseling and administration. She is currently an Associate Professor of Curriculum and Outcomes Assessment at Northcentral University. In addition, Melanie is an Education Consultant for the national healthcare staffing organization, Temps Inc., President of Innovative eLearning Solutions, and the Executive Editor for the eLearning Institute. Melanie’s primary research interests include online teaching and learning, alternative teacher certification, curriculum, and distance learning instructional practices. She is the author of several books and peer reviewed publications. In addition to Melanie’s publications, she is also an accomplished public speaker. She has presented at the Sloan Consortium Conference, the Ubiquitous Learning Conference, and the International Learning Conference. Melanie received a Ph.D. in Education with a specialization in Curriculum and Teaching from Northcentral University, a master’s degree in Education Administration from Grand Canyon University, and a second master’s degree in School Counseling for the University of West Alabama. She received her bachelor’s degree in Liberal Studies and Music from Excelsior College. She holds teaching certificates in online teaching, elementary education, and guidance counseling.


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