Teachers and computer-mediated communication: A network analysis of communication constraints.

Broholm, John Raymond, Ph.D., University of Kansas, 1991.


This study examined the communication patterns and relationships among teachers who used an electronic mail (E-mail) and shared database system. The system of interest, UNITE, was designed and implemented specifically for primary and secondary schools, including users and resources in all teaching content areas. The effects of teaching content area, school level, and participation in a collaborative teaching project were studied as communication constraints on UNITE.

Schools have been characterized as work environments where teachers work in isolation from each other. Yet, teachers maintain a norm of interactive behavior that puts some emphasis on collegiality--their willingness to be helpful and cordial to one another--balanced against autonomy in determining exactly how they will teach. The new communication medium, computer-mediated communication (CMC), is being introduced into schools, and may have profound effects on how teachers communicate with each other.

A network analysis revealed that users of the UNITE electronic mail system seemed to overcome the constraint of spatial distance between communicators quite effectively. However, having a shared basis for communication in teaching content area continued to serve as a significant structural parameter of communication--possibly the most powerful parameter extant. While the system was designed for use by teachers in all content areas, the largest group of teachers using the system was science teachers. School level was also a significant constraint, but participation in a collaborative teaching effort was not.

A few individuals on the system accounted for a large proportion of its use, and librarians in particular appeared to incorporate CMC into their communication networking routines. A clique-detection program, NEGOPY, found two clusters of communicators on the system, one larger and relatively heterogeneous, the other smaller and largely made up of librarians.