Mary Wegner


Students in the 21st century seek connection with each other through synchronous online avenues, yet the education community does not embrace the use of synchronous online tools within the formal process of schooling. This creates a disconnect between the way that students learn outside of school and the way that they are schooled. In addition to matching the communication patterns of students, synchronous online tools provide opportunities for participants to communicate using a number of channels (audio, text, and interactive media) within a single communication environment. An important and useful perspective in this regard is to view the multi-channel environment from the point of view of how it facilitates critical thinking. This is especially important since critical thinking has been determined as an essential skill necessary for life in the 21st century. This descriptive case study sought to answer the following research questions: 1. In a synchronous online conversation that is action orientated using a multi-channel interface (audio, text, and interactive media), what sort of talk occurs in each channel, specifically, does each channel facilitate a different function of communication? 2. What proportion of a synchronous online conversation using audio, text, and interactive media is occupied by critical thinking? Communication was analyzed within a multi-channel synchronous online environment, as used by 25 Technology Teacher Leaders (TTLs) from the Anchorage School District in Anchorage, Alaska during a 90-minute facilitated discussion on the topic of using Web 2.0 in education. Participants also completed a self-report demographic questionnaire. Study participants used the communication channels of audio, instant messaging, interactive whiteboard, and participant feedback tools, which included clapping, raising and lowering their hand, smiling, displaying a thumbs down, and registering a vote using the polling tool. The functions of communication studied included assertion, build logical reasoning, content questions, endorsement, off-topic/social/logistical, and reflect/think aloud. This study produced 5 significant findings that provide insight into synchronous online course design: an instant message backchannel exists; a logistics facilitator is needed; synchronous online communication supports social learning constructs; a link exists between synchronous online communication and critical and integrative thinking; and audio best facilitates critical and integrative thinking.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (EdD) -- Educational technology; Education (Secondary) -- Computer-assisted instruction; Communication -- Data processing; Distance education; Educational technology; Internet in education

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Polin, Linda;