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Abstract

This paper reports a theory-driven experimental study for designing and evaluating two different forms of attention-guidance functionalities integrated into an anchored-discussion system. Using social constructivism as a motivating theory, we constructed a theoretical framework that emphasizes the importance of students’ attention allocation in online learning conversations and its influence on message quality and interaction patterns. The development of the functionalities, named faded instructor-led and peer-oriented attention guidance, aimed to direct students’ attention toward instructional materials’ central domain principles while offering them an open learning environment in which they could choose their own topics and express their own ideas. We evaluated the functionalities with heat map analysis, repeated measures general linear model analysis, and sequence analysis to assess the utility of the developed functionalities. Results show that attention guidance helped students more properly allocate their attention in online learning conversations. Furthermore, we found that the improved attention allocation led to better quality of students’ online learning conversations. We discuss implications for researchers and practitioners who wish to promote more fruitful online discussions.

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