Computer-mediated communication

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1 Definition

Computer-mediated communication CMC) is any form of communication between two or more individual people who interact and/or influence each other via separate computers through the Internet or a network connection - using social software. CMC does not include the methods by which two computers communicate, but rather how people communicate via computers. (Definition from the Wikipedia:Computer-mediated communication, feb 2006).

Computer-mediated communication (CMC) has also been defined as "any communication patterns mediated through the computer" (Metz, 1992, p. 3). Walther and Burgoon (1992) argue that, "for many of us, CMC is no longer a novelty but a communication channel through which much of our business and social interaction takes place, and this transformation is expected to continue" (p. 51).

See also: Computer-supported collaborative learning, Computer-supported instructional communication, etc.

2 Technical and social aspects of CMC

2.1 Advantages of CMC

1. Computer mediated communication breaks down geographical barriers to communication enabling collaboration through communication over distance.

2. People can exchange, store, edit, broadcast, and copy any written document. They can send data and messages instantaneously, easily, at low cost, and over long distances. Messages can be sent to groups of any size and can be programmed for such special functions as automatic copying to a pre-specified distribution list. Two or more people can look at a document and revise it together, consult with each other on critical matters or ask for and give assistance interactively (Hiltz & Turoff, 1978; Williams, 1977).

3. Few Status and Position Cues: Software for electronic communication is blind with respect to the vertical hierarchy in social relationships and organizations. Once people have electronic access, their status, power, and prestige are not communicated as in face to face situations. Thus charismatic and high status people may have less influence, and group members may participate more equally in computer communication. Social influence among communicators becomes more equal because so much hierarchical dominance and power information is hidden (Edinger & Patterson, 1983). So providing a certain amount of anonymity which eliminates stereotypical classifications makes people feel less inhibited about communicating their ideas, opinions, feelings about certain issues and as a result fosters more participation and contribution from people who would otherwise feel intimidated (introverts). Students who are silent in face-to-face communication contribute in CMC discussion. It is the students who contribute the least in face-to-face discussion who increase their participation the most in CMC discussion.

2.2 Disadvantages of CMC

1. Inhibitions related to computer/technology use; problems with access to the technology.

2. More time consuming

3. Absence of Regulating Feedback, lack of socio-emotional and nonverbal cues (often referred to as cues filtered out). In face to face communication, head nods, smiles, eye contact, distance, tone of voice, and other nonverbal behavior give speakers and listeners information they can use to regulate, modify, and control exchanges. Electronic communication may be inefficient for resolving such coordination problems as telling another person you already have knowledge of something he or she is explaining (Kraut, Lewis, & Swezey, 1982). The lack of social feedback might make it difficult to coordinate and comprehend messages (Kraut & Lewis, in press). The absence of informational feedback between speakers and listeners in the computer- mediated communication condition makes people don’t know exactly when their arguments are understood or agreed to, and consequently everyone believes they have to exert more effort to be understood making computer mediated communication more time consuming.

4. The lack of true human contact (Kevin Dupre - June 27, 1994). Electronic communication tends to seem impersonal. Communicators must imagine their audience, for at a terminal it almost seems as though the computer itself is the audience. Messages are depersonalized, inviting stronger or more uninhibited text and more assertiveness in return. "Sometimes users lose sight of the fact that they are really addressing other people, not the computer." People in computer-mediated groups are more uninhibited than they are in face-to-face groups as measured by uninhibited verbal behavior, defined as frequency of remarks containing swearing, insults, name calling, and hostile comments. In computer-linked groups whose members are discontented and in conflict with one another, impersonal behavior might tend to polarize members, exacerbate aggressiveness, and cause negative attributions to others (e.g., Gibbons & Wright, 1981; Goldstein, Davis, & Herman, 1975; McArthur & Solomon, 1978; Prentice-Dunn & Rogers, 1980). Using face to face communication, norms and social standards are made salient by observable social structural artifacts (such as prestige communicated through a person's dress) and by communication itself, including nonverbal involvement (Edinger & Patterson, 1983;Patterson, 1982). However, electronic signals convey fewer historical, contextual, and nonverbal cues. This situation, where personality lack salience, might foster feelings of depersonalization. In addition, using the computer tends to be absorbing and conducive to quick response, which might reduce self-awareness and increase the feeling of being submerged in the machine.

3 Theories of CMC

  • Media richness theory (Daft & Lengel, 1986)
  • Social Presence Theory ( Short, Williams, Christie 1976)
  • Time, Interaction, and Performance ( Mcgrath 1991)
  • Media synchronicity theory (Dennis & Valacich, 1999)
  • Social information processing theory (Walther)
  • cues-filtered-out theory ( Sproull and Kiesler)
  • Lack of Social Context Cues (Walther, 1992)
  • The Social Identity Model of Deindividuation Effects (Lea & Spears 1992)
  • Hyperpersonal model (Walther)

4 History of CMC in eucation

4.1 Summary

Digitized communication and networking in education started in the mid 80's (e.g. Hiltz, 1988) and became popular by the mid-90's, in particular through the World-Wide Web (WWW), eMail and Forums. There is a difference between two major forms of online learning. The earlier type, based on either Computer Based Training (CBT) or Computer Based Learning (CBL), focused on the interaction between the student and computer drills plus tutorials on one hand or micro-worlds and simulations on the other. Both can be delivered today over the WWW. Today, the prevailing paradigm in the regular school system is Computer Mediated Communication (CMC), where the primary form of interaction is between students and instructors, mediated by the computer. CBT/CBL usually means individualized (self-study) learning, while CMC involves teacher/tutor facilitation and requires scenarization of flexible learning activities. In addition, modern ICT provides education with tools for sustaining learning communities and associated knowledge management tasks. It also provides tools for student and curriculum management.

CMC plays of course an important role in in full-time distance teaching. While most quality offers still rely on paper, videos and occasional CBT/CBL materials, there is an increased use of e-tutoring through forums, chat rooms, video-conferencing etc. Courses addressed to smaller groups frequently use "blended" or hybrid designs that mix presence courses (usually in the beginning and at the end of a module) with distance activities and use various pedagogical styles (e.g. drill & practise, exercises, projects etc.).

4.2 Educational paradigm shifts

Here is a longer quote from (Berge & Collins, 1995) that demonstrates the often cited shift from "teaching" to "learning" and that in way happend "in the field".

For many years, educators have been exploring ways to combine theories of differing learning styles and student- constructed knowledge with the theory of practice-centered learning. Instead of being passive recipients of knowledge, we now consider students capable of constructing their own knowledge with guidance from the teacher. We can offer part of this tutorial guidance by setting up an environment that will provide students with the resources necessary for independent exploration. In using emerging computer-based technology as a resource, students are encouraged to explore their own interests and to become active educational workers, with opportunities to solve some authentic problems. [...]

The type of change enabled by computer-mediated communication (CMC) does not just involve adding new technology to old ways of organizing teaching and learning (Moore, 1993). Although the perennial problem is still one of instructional content and design, we must not pave over old cow paths.


On the more academic side, several emerging research fields related to collaborative learning and situated cognition also quite naturally integrated CMC within their conceptual framework. Read Geri and Lentini for more details.

  • Scaramalia's and Bereiter's (1992) work on collaborative knowledge building was inspired by the idea that students should engage in actities similar to researchers, which means to communicate a lot.
  • Brown, Collins & Duguid (1989) argue that learning occurs in context ie. "knowledge is situated, being in part a product of the activity, context, and culture in which it is developed and used". Therefore the authors propose a cognitive apprenticeship approach to teach and that does a lot engage learners in communcation which in turn can be enhanced with computer-based tools.
  • Clark and Brennan (1991), were interested on how learners collaboratively construct beliefs and meanings and they evaluated several common media and how the may affect common grounding.
  • Suchman (1988), inspired by Garfinkel's (1967) ethnomethodolgy, studied the ways writing and drawing activities interact with conversation.


See related entries on cognitive tools, groupware, Computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL), Writing-to-learn, situated learning.

5 Links

  • Wiziq Virtual Classroom Technology offers the following features: Works in Flash format and needs no downloads, 2-way live audio/video delivery, Whiteboard with Math tools, Synchronous Content sharing such as PowerPoint (retains animations and transitions), PDF, Flash, MS Word, MS Excel files and videos, Records all sessions to be played back in Flash format (needs no downloads), Share PowerPoint presentations asynchronously even with narrated audio in slides

6 References

  • Berge, Zane and Mauri Collins, Computer-Mediated Communication and the Online Classroom in Distance Learning, Computer-Mediated Communication Magazine / Volume 2, Number 4 / April 1, 1995 / Page 6 HTML.
    • This is an interesting essay that shows how new Internet technology was linked to education.
  • Clark, H. H. & Brennan, S. E. (1991). Grounding in communication. In L. B. Resnick, J. Levine and S. D. Teasley (Eds.), Perspectives on Socially Shared Cognition (pp. 127-149). Washington, DC.: American Psychological Association.
  • Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in ethnomethodology. New York: Prentice-Hall.
  • Gay, Geri and Lentini, M. Use of Communication Resources in a Networked Collaborative Design Environment, [1]. This is a very good article for introductory reading. It pulls together various theoretical influencs.
  • Hiltz, S. R. (1988). Collaborative learning in a virtual classroom: Highlights of findings. In CSCW 88, Proceedings of the Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (pp. 282-290). New York: ACM Press.
  • Moore, M. G. (1993). Is teaching like flying? A total systems view of distance education. American Journal of Distance Education, 7(1), 1-10.
  • Rummel, Nikol and Nicole Krämer (2010). Computer-Supported Instructional Communication: A Multidisciplinary Account of Relevant Factors, Educational Psychology Review 22:1–7 DOI 10.1007/s10648-010-9122-y
  • Scardamalia, M. & Bereiter, C. (1992). Collaborative knowledge building. In E. DeCorte, M.C. Linn, H. Mandl, & L. Verschaffel (Eds.), Computer-Based Learning Environments and Problem Solving (pp. 41-66). Berlin: Springer-Verlag.
  • Suchman, L. (1988). Representing practice in cognitive science. Human Studies, 11, 305-325.
  • Kiesler, S., Siegel, J. A., & McGuire, T. W. (1984). Social psychological aspects of computer-mediated communication (pp. pp-657). Carnegie-Mellon University, Committee on Social Science Research in Computing.

6.1 To sort out

  • Romiszowski, A. J., & Cheng, E. (1992). “Hypertext’s contribution to computer-mediated communication: in search of an instructional model.” In M. Giardina (Ed.), Interactive multimedia learning environments. Springer, Berlin. Eastmond, D. V. (1995). Alone but together: adult distance study through computer conferencing. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press.
  • Irani, T. (1998). “Communication potential, information richness and attitude: A study of computer mediated communication in the ALN classroom.” ALN Magazine, 2(1).
  • Swan, K., Shea, P., Fredericksen, E., Pickett, A, Pelz, W. & Maher, G. (2000). “Building knowledge building communities: consistency, contact and communication in the virtual classroom.” Journal of Educational Computing Research, 23(4), 389-413.
  • Picciano, A. G. (2002). “Beyond student perceptions: issues of interaction, presence, and performance in an online course.” Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks (JALN), 6. http://www.aln.org/publications/jaln/v6n1/v6n1_picciano.asp