September 1996

Root Page of Article: Barriers to Getting Educators Online, by Denise Ethier and Jennifer Gold

Barriers to Sustaining Community: The Nature of Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC)

When describing adult learners, Casner-Lotto points out, "people don't immediately embrace change" (Casner-Lotto, 1988). Despite steps to design a supportive online environment, the very nature of online communication may pose a potential barrier to sustaining an online community of adult learners.

Using CMC is a fairly new means of communication for many educators. Beginners may feel insecure about contributing for fear of typos or making a mistake. They may agonize over forming perfect sentences and, in the end, either lose their idea in the laboring or profess that it is not worth the time. This need to compose perfect messages may be more prevalent on professional networks such as NCIPnet, but users on any system may be fearful of getting "flamed" for disagreeing with the general consensus or alienating another participant.

More than the technical requirements, the idea of not knowing how to communicate online, or the rules of the culture, can be very intimidating for a new user. Furthermore, without familiar face-to-face visual and auditory cues such as eye gaze, body language, and voice inflection, new users fear that a message may be misinterpreted. Using CMC requires learning how to communicate without the FTF cues, which may challenge or even scare a new user away. (See Making Friends in Cyberspace by Malcom R. Parks for further discussion).

For example, a school specialist on NCIPnet explained that, at first, she felt timid to post anything on the network, even if it was in reply to a message with which she agreed. When she finally did, she went back and read it and found typos. It was after realizing that she had "more ego strength than that," that she posted again. Yet, she admitted that, even after several months, she still feels shy posting.

In another example, an elementary classroom teacher explained that when her colleague logged on to NCIPnet for the first time, she felt immediately overwhelmed by all of the messages in the various folders. She felt she had to read them all before she posted her first message. For the teacher, however, she felt that over time she had learned to discipline herself to read just the topics she was interested in, not every message on the network. But, for the person who is easily discouraged or feels they are walking into a party late, the anxiety felt in reading and communicating online for the first time can be monumental.

In actuality, it is CMC's asynchronous nature that makes it a valuable form of communication for educators. Consequently, the barrier of time that may have prevented access to CMC in the first place may be an inducement for an educator to use telecommunications once access is attained. Educators who may feel they do not have the time to look for information, or connect with peers, or pursue professional development can have access to seemingly limitless opportunities and resources anytime day or night. --

Contents Archive Sponsors Studies Contact