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Teaching As Assisting Others' Performance

Habibah Ab Jalil, Universiti Putra, Selangor, Malaysia
Angela McFarlane, University of Bristol, United Kingdom
Maarten de Laat, University of Utrecht, Netherlands


The emergence of the internet has created accessibility and opportunities for teaching and learning. Nowadays, computer-mediated communication (CMC) is widely used in online learning environments in a vast number of higher education institutions. This article reports findings from a study that investigated the implications of participation in online discussions for the role of teaching. The aims of the study were: 1) to examine tutor-student and student-student interactions for evidence of ‘assistance' in the postings to a ‘Discussion Board'; and 2) to explore the tutor-student and student-student assistance patterns in the Discussion Board postings, associated with different task types. The underlying premise in the study was a unified theory of teaching and education which draws on the work of L.S. Vygotsky and neo-Vygotskian researchers and offers a theorization of teaching as assisted performance. This idea articulates and conceptualises a form of teaching that is not just evidenced in the tutor's role but also amongst the students. Sociocultural theory also proposes that to understand students' learning in CMC, it is necessary to study the social interactions of teaching and learning that occur in the online environment. Data collection and analysis were carried out in two stages that included: 1) content analysis to explore the nature of assisted performance provided in the Discussion Board, according to participants' role and task types; and 2) mapping the interactions and describing the patterns by using a social network approach. The categories of Scaffolding, Feedback on Performance, Cognitive Structuring, Modelling, Contingency Management, Instructing and Questioning, were used to analyse the message postings, or means of assistance in CMC. Through the analysis, we aimed to obtain an understanding of the nature of assisted performance and pattern of interactions among two groups of a Masters programme in a public university. Analysis revealed that ‘teaching' was evidenced in the students' role, however, the pattern of assisted performance by peers or a tutor depended on one or more of the following factors: type of task (the nature of task initiated), group formation (either one large group or several small working groups) and tutor management (the degree of tutor involvement in responding to students' posting).

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