Abstract - The Information Society 17(3)

Exploring Multiplexity: Social Network Structures in a Computer-Supported Distance Learning Class

Caroline Haythornthwait

A computer-mediated group is a complex entity whose members exchange many types of information via multiple means of communication in pursuit of goals specific to their environment. Over time, they coordinate technical features of media with locally enacted use to achieve a viable working arrangement. To explore this complex interaction, a case study is presented of the social networks of interactions and media use among members of a class of computer-supported distance learners. Results show how group structures associated with project teams dominated who communicated with whom, about what, and via which media over the term, and how media came to occupy their own communication niches: Webboard for diffuse class-wide communication; Internet Relay Chat more to named others but still for general communication across the class; and Email primarily for intra-team communication. Face-to-face interaction, occurring only during a short on-campus session, appears to have had a catalytic effect on social and emotional exchanges. Results suggest the need to structure exchanges to balance class-wide sharing of ideas with sub-group interactions that facilitate project completion, and to provide media that support these two modes of interaction.

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