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Abstract -- Analyzing Linkage Structure in a Course-Integrated Virtual Learning Community on the World Wide Web Education Track
D7: New Applications of Networking Technology for Education

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Analyzing Linkage Structure in a Course-Integrated Virtual Learning Community on the World Wide Web

James, Leon ( leon@uhunix.uhcc.hawaii.edu)
Bogan, Kevin ( bogan@uhunix.uhcc.hawaii.edu)


Forty college students are participating every semester in a regular psychology seminar in which their weekly homework is to be submitted as HTML documents linked to their individual Home Pages which are located in a 'read permission only' subdirectory attached to the instructor's Home Page on the World Wide Web. Students read each other's reports and create HREF links between their comments and the target paragraph in the other student's HTML file. To facilitate precision of reference links, students create 'name anchors' for sections or paragraphs within their documents. The ability to make specific references to individual comments rather than globally to the entire document, is an important feature that encourages frequent and lively exchanges.

Weekly additions by students to their HTML file, and the resulting cumulative growth of hypertext linkages from within each document, creates an online record of a developing learning community. Since the files are archived each semester and linked to the current students' Home Pages, the result is the natural growth of a generational virtual learning community embodied in the form of a hypertext super-document that, in theory, can develop endlessly, creating an evolving educational cyberspace nook on the World Wide Web that can be revisited, again and again. Students who were participants in this learning community can access it from any location on the Web, and years later, see how their student files have been linked to comments by subsequent generations. As well, world wide browsers can visit the cyberspace zone, according to one's interests, and establish links with their own Web projects.

Within this educational Web architecture, it is of theoretical interest to design a process of continuous analysis of linkage structures created by members of the virtual learning community. The type, number, and pattern of hypertext linkages within the continuously evolving generational super-document, can be used as an index of the intellectual exchanges taking place within and across generations of participants. A method is proposed based on prior work with identifying affective and cognitive behaviors. Content analysis of student comments in terms of instructional speech acts, produces an inventory of categories of thoughts and feelings as expressed by the participants. In the affective domain, naturally occurring link-types include solidarity, competition, assistance, reputation, and value affirmation. In the cognitive domain, link functions include agreement, disagreement, expansion, requests for information, and context-building.

Knowledge of this sort can help us better understand and prepare for the accelerating socio-cultural explosion we call the Internet.