The effect of centralization and cohesion on the social construction of knowledge in discussion forums
Interactive relationships in online learning communities can influence the process and quality of knowledge building. The aim of this study is to empirically investigate the relationships between network structures and social knowledge building in an asynchronous writing environment through discussion forums in a learning management system. The quality of the knowledge construction process is evaluated through content analysis, and the network structures are analyzed using a social network analysis of the response relations among participants during online discussions. Structural equation modeling is used to analyze relations between network structures and knowledge construction. Working on data extracted from a 6-week distance-learning experiment, we analyzed how 10 groups developed collaborative learning social networks when participants worked together on case resolution. The results show a positive correlation between cohesion and centralization, and the positive influence of the cohesion index and the centralization index on social presence and cognitive presence in knowledge building. However, this must be understood within the context of social networks in which messages sent to all group members occupy the center. This underlines the need for reinforcing participations that are directed to the group as a whole, and the importance of the fact the network contains both central and intermediate members. By contrast, we propose that the combination of analysis techniques used is a good option for this type of study while recognizing that it is necessary to continue validating the instruments in terms of their own theoretical suppositions.
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