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Major Assignment


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There are many communications students who are well versed in the new communications technologies (particularly Internet based technologies), and there are some students who have yet to use email. The former group, however, is growing, and the latter group is shrinking. Moreover, many students expect some aspects of their learning experiences to take place in cyberspace. Many face-to-face classes have class websites with syllabi, assignments, activities, and lecture notes. In addition, those classes may also include class listservs, discussion boards, and chat rooms.

Integrating new communication technologies into small group work not only provides alternative communication tools for students to use, it also helps students develop skills they will need in the workplace. Further, the cyber learning environment can provide a space for students to interact more substantially and thoughtfully than they can in face-to-face classroom meetings.

Below is an outline of the information presented to students on technology and small group communication.

  1. Research on Technology and Small Group Communication

    1. New communication technologies can create new environments that facilitate open, fluid, and dynamic small groups.

      1. Recent research suggests that online discussions facilitate collaborative learning in the university classroom.

      2. New communication technologies also have the potential to provide an avenue of participation for historically disadvantaged and disenfranchised group members.

    2. New communication technologies can be costly, both in terms of time and money.

    3. Group Outcomes

      1. Several studies have found that groups interacting either synchronously (e.g., chat rooms, audio or video-conferencing) or asynchronously (discussion boards, listservs) produced higher quality decisions, more unique solutions, and more creative ideas than face-to-face groups.

      2. Other research has found that face-to-face groups out-perform groups that meet via mediated tools.

      3. A lot of research has found no differences between face-to-face and mediated group decision making.

    4. Group Processes
      1. Several studies in the organizational context have demonstrated that groups using new communication technologies solve problems and reach decisions in significantly less time than face-to-face groups.

      2. In contrast, studies conducted in the laboratory (often using zero-history groups) found that mediated group decision making is more time consuming and less satisfying than face-to-face meetings.

  2. Technology Available for Student Small Groups

    1. A number of online service companies offer free email accounts.

    2. Listservs allow you to send email to multiple people by entering only a single address.

      1. Most listservs also provide an archiving service as well as various options for regulating the listserv (e.g., moderated or unmoderated).

      2. Several free listservs are available for your use.

    3. Discussion boards are asynchronous web-based tools that allow you to post messages and read what others have posted.

      1. With discussion boards, users have time to think about what to say, to compose, reflect, and edit their postings, and the posted messages may be read at any time by other group members.

      2. Several free discussion board services are available for your use.

    4. Chat rooms are Internet-based systems for synchronous conversation in real time.

      1. Participants engage in text-based interaction that resembles the immediacy of in-person face-to-face encounters.

      2. Most free chat services offer other functions as well, such as free email, webpages, and discussion boards.

    5. Other Technologies

      1. Newsgroups, or Usenet discussion groups, are electronic bulletin boards or forums that allow subscribers to read and post messages in thousands of specialized areas.

      2. In MUDs (Multi-User Domains), users experience virtual reality in a text-only mode via the Internet.

  3. Characteristics of New Communication Technologies in Small Groups

    1. Mediated communication is public

    2. Mediated communication is recorded for posterity

    3. Mediated communication is a tool

  4. Netiquette

    1. Netiquette refers to etiquette on the Internet.

    2. The guidelines listed generally apply to email, listservs, chat rooms, and discussion boards.

    3. Netiquette resources:

      Chat Netiquette
      Etiquette for communicating in chat rooms. Includes a helpful list of chat abbreviations that are also common in email and discussion board posts.

      Dark Mountain's Netiquette Guide
      More comprehensive than most guides in that Dark Mountain addresses Group Netiquette, International Netiquette, Bandwidth Netiquette, as well as more traditional Netiquette issues.

      How to Write a Good Newsgroup Message
      A bit on the technical side, but useful if you're new to newsgroups and want to participate.

      A helpful list of Internet communication do's and don'ts written in an engaging style. Special attention to flaming and how to avoid it.

      Netiquette Home Page
      Includes the core rules of Netiquette, Business Netiquette, and a Netiquette quiz.

      Netiquette Sites Webring;list
      The list is short, but includes sites you might want to explore, such as Netiquette cartoons.

      On Netiquette
      Discusses Netiquette issues in alphabetical order, beginning with "Binary Attachments" and ending with "Virus Alerts."

  5. Online Small Group Work

    1. Be organized
    2. Be prompt
    3. Be polite
    4. Be accountable
    5. Be flexible


Althaus, S. (1997). Computer-mediated communication in the university classroom: An experiment with online discussion. Communication Education, 46, 158-174.

Bordia, P. (1997). Face-to-face versus computer-mediated communication. The Journal of Business Communication, 34, 99-120.

Brandon, D., & Hollingshead, A. (1999). Collaborative learning and computer-supported groups. Communication Education, 48, 109-126.

Kindred, J. (2000, April). Thinking about the online classroom: Evaluating the "ideal" versus the "real." Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Central States Communication Association, Detroit. Available at:

Mele, C. (1999). Cyberspace and disadvantaged communities: The Internet as a tool for collective action. In M. Smith & P. Kollock (Eds.), Communities in cyberspace (pp. 290-310). London: Routledge.

Olaniran, B. (1994) Group performance in computer-mediated and face-to-face communication media. Management Communication Quarterly, 7, 256-281.

Scott, C. R. (1999). Communication technology and group communication. In L. Frey, D. Gouran, & M. Poole (Eds.), The handbook of group communication & research (pp. 432-472). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.


Davis, B., & Brewer, J. (1997). Electronic discourse: Linguistic individuals in virtual space. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Gralla, P., Ishida, S., Reimer, M., & Adams, S. (1999). How the Internet works : Millennium edition. Que Corp

Rakow, L. (1999). The public at the table: From public access to public participation. New Media & Society, 1, 74-82.

Robins, K. (1999). New media and knowledge. New Media & Society, 1, 18-24.

Smith, M. & Kollock, P. (Eds.) (1999). Communities in cyberspace. London: Routledge.


Adkins, M., & Brashers, D. (1995). The power of language in computer-mediated groups. Management Communication Quarterly, 8, 289-322.

Bloomfield, P., Coombs, R., & Knight, D. (2000). Information technology and organizations: Strategies, networks, and integration. Oxford University Press.

Fulk, J., Schmitz, J., & Ryu, D. (1995). Cognitive elements in the social construction of communication technology. Management Communication Quarterly, 8, 259-288.

Hart, P., Svenning, L., & Ruchinskas, J. (1995). From face-to-face meeting to video teleconferencing: Potential shifts in the meeting genre. Management Communication Quarterly, 8, 395-423.

Harvey, K. (2000). Eden online: Re-inventing humanity in a technological universe. Hampton Press.

McLeod, C. (1996). New communication technologies for group decision making: Toward an integrative framework. In R. Hirokawa & M. Poole (Eds.), Communication and group decision making, 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Scott, C. (1999). The impact of physical and discursive anonymity on group members' multiple identifications during computer-supported decision making. Western Communication Journal, 4, 456-487.Hirokawa and M. Poole. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.


A Guide to Internet Chat Brought to you by the Best-of-Web folks, the site includes links to background information on chat rooms, frequently asked questions, a chat room directory, and gaming information.

Mary Houten-Kemp's Everything Email Although the advertisements can get annoying, the site does contain useful information on how to write email, email jargon, how to find email addresses, and other email-related topics.

Whether you're ready to put your entire course online, or just some parts of it, provides the service to do it. The upside is that is easy to use and access. The downside is that determines the site's structure. In addition, there's no such thing as a free lunch, so will try to sell you the fee-based version.

Center for Academic Transformation
Includes links to articles, monographs, and websites concerned with online learning. Sponsored by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Discus - FREE Discussion Board Script
The Discus Discussion Board software is easy to install and use (although you must have cgi-bin access to install the software on your server). You can customize the board's look to a limited extent. Not graphics-intensive, so pages load quickly. A commercial version is also available for $99.

Use Nicenet's Internet Classroom Assistant (ICA) to put your courses on the Internet. "Nicenet provides the ICA free of charge with no advertising."

Task Decomposition, Dynamic Role Assignment, and Low-Bandwidth Communication for Real-Time Strategic Teamwork
Written by Peter Stone and Manuela Veloso, in the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University, this article fuses teamwork and artificial intelligence.

Sponsored by the University of Kansas, South Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium, the site includes information on professional development and integrating technology into the classroom, as well as specific technology tools such as a webpage wizard and online quiz.


Identify small groups that regularly use new communication technologies to coordinate their activities, make decision, and solve problems (or have students identify such groups) that would be willing to allow student observers. Have students observe groups for several weeks, focusing on specific small group communication concepts (such as leadership, brainstorming, roles, norms). If students work in groups on this project, they should compare their observations, and in their final report they should discuss the differences and similarities among their observations. The final report should include both written and oral components so students can share their findings with the class.


(Note: It's useful to have students meet in a computer lab so you can present a tutorial on using the discussion board, listserv, and chat room.)

  1. Set up a discussion board for the class on Yahoo, Snap, or similar online service. Post a discussion question to the board and invite students to participate. When you meet face-to-face, discuss similarities and differences between online and face-to-face discussion.

  2. Hold office hours in an online chat room.

  3. Set up listservs and discussion boards for permanent small groups in the class (project groups).

  4. Set up a class listserv and discussion board. Use the listserv for announcements, reminders, and general questions. Encourage students to use the discussion board to address issues that you don't have time to address in face-to-face class meetings, or for more in-depth discussion.

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