Rich Social Interaction in an Online Community
Deborah Tatar James Gray Judith Fusco
SRI International CILT and SRI International SRI International
Keywords: Communities of Practice, Communities, Collaboration, Teacher Professional Development,
Learning, Qualitative Methodology, Discourse, MUVEs, MOOs
Synchronous online communities for learning have been criticized because participant contributions do not
seem to build on each other. But decontextualized measures of building do not adequately characterize the
nature of communication in successful real-time interaction. Other factors, such as whether the participants
understand the meaning of remarks, the light in which they are presented, and the joint project the group is
engaged in may ultimately prove to be more directly related to characterizing the community and its
learning prospects. This paper starts the process of thinking about these more subtle indicators in the
context of one example from a session in Tapped In.
Tapped In is a text-based technology available to teachers that purports to help satisfy the pressing need for
continuing professional development by providing an open, engaging and partially self-organizing real-
time online community. Tapped In has met with remarkable success at a face level: an average of 700
members and 1600 guests log hours on this multi-user virtual environment (MUVE) every month. Over a
recent 8-month period of time, those members who logged in participated on an average of 11 occasions
and had an average session length of 51 minutes. The time spent was particularly significant because it was
volunteered by a group of people (teachers) who by definition already lead busy lives with a lot of social
contact and because there was no direct, material incentive for participation.
This pattern of use suggests that the participants are receiving something of value. Yet, evaluating whether
this is something of significance to learning poses a dilemma. Online communities have been criticized
because participants appear to build on or elaborate each other’s ideas rarely (Herring, 1999). But building
may be only a rough measure of the conversational coherence that collaborative learning requires.
Psycholinguistics, conversation analysis, and sociolinguistics point to the importance of factors such as
understanding the meaning of remarks, the light in which they are presented, and the ability of the group to
form satisfactory joint projects (Clark, 1996; Goodwin & Heritage, 1990). These more subtle indicators of
responsiveness probably provide a better characterization of whether the communicative needs of
participants are being met.
This paper presents evidence that participants are able to move from the joint project or activity of
criticizing badly designed Websites to the more complex activity of responding to a Website designed by
someone who is at once present and a stranger---a sophisticated socio-cognitive accomplishment. Single
cases such as this are important when a proof of concept is at stake or when the revealing circumstances are
On one hand, there is a need to study synchronous online communities at a level that can answer these
questions about their functioning. On the other, there are several different kinds of special challenges in
studying synchronous online communities compared to face-to-face meetings and to other online systems.
Compared to videotapes or even audiotapes of face-to-face interactions, the analyst knows less about
people’s stances towards the activity in the chat room environment. When someone is silent, we don’t
know whether they are eagerly awaiting the next contribution or have left the room. We know less about
their relationships to others in the room (who do they sit next to?). In Tapped In, in particular, participation
is voluntary, unpredictable and presumably contingent on unknown particulars of their lives. Who are
they? How did they come to be there? What were their reactions?
In general, online communities have been studied either through the mechanisms provided by the system---
transcripts of interactions (Baym, 1997; Bruckman, 1998; Cherny, 1999; Herring, 1999) and/or through
ethnography (Gray, 1999; O'Day, Ito, Linde, Adler, & Mynatt, 1999). Both methods are interesting and
powerful. However, something more is called for. Transcripts alone do not give us enough information
about the meaning of the events for the participants. Additionally, whereas in conversation and interaction
analysis, there is a core assumption that the participants are experts in the communicative system and that
we may therefore treat their behaviors as finely tuned performances (Duranti & Goodwin, 1992), we cannot
assume such accomplished expertise in online interactions. Instead, we must attempt to verify whether and
when such expertise exists. Ethnographic description gives us the big picture but may overlook influential
but unmemorable background factors. One way to gain more information would be to supplement
transcripts and ethnographic interviews with videotape recordings of participant during interactions. This
would help answer questions such as “when did their attention wander?” However, when participants from
all over the world can drop in at any time, videotaping is not possible and even face-to-face interviews are
Therefore, over the course of the last year, we have developed a method for looking at both behaviors and
the meaning that the behaviors have for the participants in synchronous online interactions. We combine
an exact record of the event with extended phone interviews conducted as soon after the event as possible.
These interviews constitute a “focused ethnography” in which we ask not only about the participants’
general views and identity, but also about their memory and understanding of particular events and bits of
dialogue. We pick events because they represent situations that are either known to be problematic in the
face-to-face world or because they have particular importance for learning. We are as interested in what
people dismiss as in what they value. Sometimes, participants mention these events themselves in the
course of answering general questions like “what happened in the session.” Sometimes, we prompt them
by describing the situation and reading from the transcript. This memory for events and attitudes towards
events is probably not always veridical. However, our interest is in the subjective, in how each participant
constructs meaning. It is less important whether we are tapping a memory or a reconstruction than that the
perspective belongs to a participant. There is no reason to believe that this method introduces any more
systematic bias into our data than interview and self-report methods do in general.
The current paper reports on one portion of an event in an online seminar session held in Tapped In, and its
social and personal setting. The seminar series, called “After School Online” (ASO), is a focal point for
culture and activity in the MUVE. Within the larger ASO series, there is a monthly series on
“InternetInquiries” (a pseudonym). InternetInquiries are a kind of bounded yet open-ended exploration of
different topics on the Web intended to be used to teach inquiry and Web skills in classrooms. We decided
to focus on an Internet Inquiry event because the creators of Tapped In saw the topic as central to their
mission and the leader as highly experienced. Thus, studying an Internet Inquiry event would cast light on
the socio-technical affordances of the system.
The event picked for this paper was chosen because it involved a delicate social situation: a novice
participant perhaps unknowingly departing from the usual organization of the online seminar and taking the
personal risk of mentioning a web page that she had made. Her mention was taken up by the seminar leader
as an offer and the web page was shown and discussed. By looking at the behavior of the sociotechnical
system under this mild stress, we can understand better how it served the needs of the particular individual
most involved, permitted good interactions at an interpersonal level, and supported communally-held
values. Although this is just one example, it is an existence proof that the system can operate in a
responsive way. It also elaborates the circumstances and abilities that permit the achievement of
Like other MUVE’s, Tapped In (www.tappedin.org) is conceived of as a virtual place with a certain
physical structure, in this case, analogous to a college campus. Individuals enter a “reception” area with a
“help-desk.” There are also places called seminar rooms, offices, a library and so forth. Participants may
create and display objects in these rooms, such as notes or whiteboards. As with other people-made items,
these places and objects serve social functions. Tapped In is a text-based environment. People can
exchange real-time messages and action descriptors (called “emotes”) in each room. These messages may
be public, or private as when they “whisper” to a particular other. Note-objects may be displayed or
projected to all the people in a room or shown to a particular identified other. A unique feature is that
specific Web addresses may be projected to a group or shown to an individual so that the page appears in a
dedicated browser window on their screen. The system offers two ways of participating: as a guest or a
member. Participants may join Tapped In by filling out a short online form, or they may visit as “guests.”
Members may have their own chat room “offices,” decorated with online objects. Additionally, members
receive a monthly online newsletter and schedule in their email. As with many MUVEs (e.g. SeniorNet,
tinyMoo, MooseCrossing) the social aspects of being in the system have been thought to be crucial
(Bruckman, 1998; Cherny, 1999; O'Day et al., 1999). However, this environment is distinct from other
chat environments in conception because it is intended for teachers, intended to support them in an
explicitly professional context, and because it has an ultimate goal of improving classroom practice.
Tapped In’s mandate includes promoting professional discourse among teachers, empowerment through
engagement in discourse, and mastery of the pedagogical possibilities that technology presents for the
classroom. It does this through providing a meeting place that is always open and also through online
seminars. There is a long history of organizations, such as Pepperdine University and the Lawrence Hall of
Science, holding formal courses and seminars using the system. However, just as significant are the
informal mechanisms, which parallel the informal ways of knowing that we find in other professional
communities (Keisler, 1997; Wellman, 1997).
Accommodations have already been made to support the particular needs of teachers engaged in
professional development. The ability to project Web pages may be considered one of these, since this
supports the ability of participants to form joint attention on a complex stimulus. Both knowledge and
socialization into the community are supported explicitly not only by the newsletter and calendar, but by a
human “greeter” who is present during working hours in the reception area. The greeter functions both as a
receptionist and a librarian: not only to help new users get oriented, but also to point all users towards the
right resources for their content goals. Another important innovation has been the presence of facilitators at
seminars to help with newcomer orientation and general issues of process.
We contacted the seminar leader for our target session three weeks ahead of time to gain his permission to
conduct research. At the beginning of the session, we alerted attendees to the fact that we were conducting
research on the session and that in addition to the normal transcript record kept of the sessions, we would
also be recording private communications. We also asked for their permission to interview them, and for
their phone numbers. We promised that all identifying information would be disguised in any publication,
and indeed all names and other information used here are pseudonyms. People who entered late were
contacted privately, informed and their permission solicited.
Eighteen people including a seminar leader and facilitator attended the seminar. Additionally, since the
facilitator for this session had never facilitated before, one researcher who had been central in creating ASO
seminars was also present as a trainer.
We gained permission to interview 15 participants including the leader and facilitators. We succeeded in
interviewing 14 of them during the week that followed the target session. We were unable to schedule a
time for the last person. He had the lowest participation of anyone in the session, judged by number of
contributions. The three people who refused to be interviewed were also amongst the group who
participated least, with 11, 18 and 23 contributions respectively. However, we did succeed in interviewing
four people who made only 9, 10, 18 and 20 contributions. Thus, low contributors are under-represented in
our data compared to their presence in the session, but by no means left out. Despite their relatively low
participation, those who declined to be interviewed contributed several substantive remarks in the course of
the discussion suggesting that they did not represent a particularly disengaged group.
THE FOCAL EVENT
All online seminars facilitated by Tapped In personnel share a rough structure: greeting, introductions,
content, and leave-taking. They start with people gathering in the event room. The facilitator greets
everyone and attempts to bring them up to speed on the technology. At the time these data were gathered,
there were two sticking points that known to require help. In particular, projecting a Web site could be
alarming for newcomers because the new window projected covered their interaction window (unless and
until the user moves it). Additionally, the Tapped In interface as it first appeared consisted of several
windows linked together. The chat window was quite small and many people preferred to detach it and
make it larger so as to be able to read more at a time. In addition to handling these known problems, the
facilitator steps in as needed to help with other technical and procedural problems. Most of her activities
are conducted one-on-one via whispering to the individuals involved. In the current case 54 of her 137
contributions were whispers.
In this particular session, introductions were delayed while we told participants about the research and
gained permission for interviews. Another unusual condition was that it was the facilitator’s (Jenny’s) first
time, and another more experienced facilitator (Audrey) gave her 19 behind-the-scenes prompts.
Introductions follow greetings. Then, the leader sets up the discussion. In this case, the leader, Marty, had
prepared notes which he projected one-by-one, much as a lecturer puts up overheads. The notes provided
contextual information and in general posed questions for the participants to answer. Some of these notes
had associated web sites that were projected to the participants.
The topic under discussion in the seminar was “Disaster InternetInquiries,” a double-entendre. The leader,
Marty, starts off by discussing web sites that he considers to be disasters because the inquiry portion is so
poorly executed. He then moves on for the bulk of the hour to discuss InternetInquiries about natural or
man-made disasters (e.g. tornadoes). He contextualizes the discussion within a system of categorization
that he had developed for describing InternetInquiries. Seminar participants look at web sites, then come
back and comment on what they liked or didn’t, often with respect to Marty’s system of categorization.
Planning a New Joint Project
During the discussion of the first web site Marty presented for critique, a novice participant, Helen takes
the action that starts the events of interest. She mentions that she has created a disaster InternetInquiry
about the Titanic (Transcript 1). Helen’s statement has ambiguous status. The fact that she has made an
InternetInquiry on the Titanic holds the potential to be treated at face value as a comment about the
previous web site or taken up by Marty as an offer for a new topic of discussion (Brown & Levinson, 1987;
Clark, 1992, 1996; Isaacs & Clark, 1987). Helen changes the impact of her initial statement by discounting
or minimizing the site several times: “It needs some updating”, “I’ve learned a lot since then”, and, later, “it
might be that disaster site.” These minimizations probably have several functions: they act as an implicit
request for reassurance, they lessen the imposition of her request to the degree it is a request and they show
that the site has some emotional significance for her. Showing something of one’s own in a public forum
can be a significant personal and social risk (Grossman, Wineburg, & Woolworth, 2000).
Marty apparently interprets her remark as an offer. He encourages her to show her work first by a direct
invitation to do so, second by making her site the very next order of business, and third when she demurs,
with the further encouragement of “Awww… you’re among friends here.”
Transcript 1: The Offer to Show the Titanic Site
16:58:14 Helen Marty, I did an internetinquiry on the Titanic which needs some updating now;
however, I have learned more since then. It was my first internetinquiry. I don't know how much
experience the last person had had.
16:58:14 Jenny /wh doug we can emamil you the complete transcript if you have to leave early
16:58:16 Doug I love the title!
16:58:32 Jenny /wh kristen we can get you the complete transcript if you need to leave early
16:58:35 Doug Thanks Jenny
16:58:36 Marty Shall we look at yours next Helen?
16:59:03 Kristen /wh jenny Just fine!!!
16:59:05 Helen It may be that disaster site.
16:59:29 Marty Awww... you're among friends here. Type /project and the URL. Close doesn't
16:59:41 Angie The poster is a good idea
16:59:48 Helen It is <TitanicURL>.
16:59:49 Marty Wait til we're done with this one, though.
Transcription conventions: /wh means that the comment was whispered to the named participant.
Transcripts are unedited except that identifying information is changed and that lines in bold are relevant to
this line of discussion.
This interchange between Marty and Helen is made in the presence of other people. The presence of
overhearers changes Helen’s communicative choices and possibly the meaning of her contributions.
Because there are overhearers, she must chose between making a public or a private communication. Helen
has previously used whispering to make private communications so she knows how the technology works
and is therefore deliberately directing this to Marty in front of other people. This contributes to its face-
value meaning as just another contribution to the general discussion.
Although Helen’s remark is directed explicitly towards Marty, it also holds the potential to change the
situation of the overhearers. By making a public comment, she draws the attention of the others to a
possible change in program, opens up the pool of those who can request to see the site, and perhaps
changes her relationship with them by letting them know that she is capable of making a web site herself.
Marty’s response is also a public act. In particular, the contribution “Awww… you’re among friends here”
functions both as a statement of fact (which may be evaluated for its truth), and a performative, a
contribution which works to cause a certain state of affairs to come into being through the fact of its
In sum, one result of this exchange is that Marty and Helen have developed a project to show her site. She
has mentioned, he has proposed and she has agreed. Another result is that Marty and Helen have set up a
social situation in which she is going to take the risk of showing her site and he has indicated that a certain
climate of response will prevail. They have done this publicly and thereby begun the process of involving
the group in the plan.
Shifting Joint Projects
Does Marty in fact have either the knowledge to predict or the power to create a friendly response? Does he
know enough about the processes and conditions to make the assertion in good faith that Helen is among
friends? We know that in other online chat forums people have had difficulty maintaining topical
discussions (Herring, 1999), a fact which may be related to lack of focused attention. In Tapped In, people
are also presumably multi-tasking, looking at the previous web sites, and pursuing different lines of thought
and conversation. Yet, to be among friends would seem at minimum to require that people be aware that
they are talking to a person who is present when they deliver their comments about Helen’s web site and
show appropriate regard for her feelings. This in turn requires not only that the participants be willing and
able but also that they have paid enough attention to the cues to understand the intent of the discussion of
her web site.
Before the URL is shown, Marty frames the project for the participants by giving them one last cue towards
the expected behaviors “OK... let's shift gears a bit and look at a person-made disaster. It's by Helen, who's
right here, so be gentle.”.
What behaviors result? Apparently, Marty was able to deliver on his promise of a friendly response.
Transcript 2 shows a portion of the discussion of the web site. People appear to pay Helen not only the
compliment of their particular remarks, but also the compliment of their relatively sustained attention.
Seventy-six seconds pass between the projection of the site and the first comment. Other sites projected
during the session elicited first relevant comments at 28, 31, 61 and 68 seconds. Additionally, most
unusually, there are no public side conversations during the time when people are looking the site or during
the discussion and indeed only one whisper during the discussion. There is some direct praise. People talk
to her directly. Even the one bit of criticism not softened by balancing praise (“My question is always how
many hours students will need to spend in front of PCs to do it.”) is softened by the notion that this is a
Transcript 2: Discussion of Helen’s Web Page
17:06:11 Kristen Titanic is popular, even if we weren't there, they all know from the movie gende
17:06:34 Marty Not bad at all for a first InternetInquiry! A journalistic task, clearly.
17:06:56 Marty Lots of structure for those unstructured minds.
17:07:02 JimGray /look
17:07:10 darlene was the task to be done by one student?
17:07:16 Robert My question is always how many hours students will need to spend in front of the
PCs to do it.
17:07:30 Hiro /wh Jenny where is Modern Lang meeting?
17:07:40 Barbara I like it. The only thing I thought was that I would like larger text and the
evaluation to be spread out into a matrix or something so it is easier to read
17:07:41 Kristen Very straight and informative, but for wghat grade do you plan to use this kind
17:07:46 Bennet I like the task part c and d plays with the perspective angle...but where's the
17:07:50 Nancy evaluation information could be built into a rubric - might free up the students
during the creation portion
17:08:00 Helen No this was for a class but was before I knew too much about cooperative groups
17:08:20 Barbara Yes, I think grouping could really improve the task.
17:08:30 Kristen Can anyone give me a definition of a *rubric* here? What is missing Bennet
17:08:31 Helen Note this was done in 1998.
17:08:33 Marty :agrees with Barbara, as usual.
17:08:50 Marty Good job, H.
17:09:02 Marty And now you can make it even gooder.
How well calibrated was this discussion to Helen’s needs and wishes? Her opinion was not made
absolutely clear by the interview process. When Helen was asked whether she felt among friends, she said
“Oh yeah, when I say that I’m challenged and stuff like this, I guess I was not particularly intimidated,”
which can be read either as “damning with faint praise” or as a genuine statement of her feeling. Arguing
that she did feel intimidated when challenged is her failure to offer more relevant information to advance
the conversation at a particular place when we know from the interview that she could have done. That is,
in the interview, Helen mentioned that she felt challenged by one idea in particular, the thought that her
project ought to have been conceived of as group work. She elaborated by commenting that group-based
projects were quite difficult for her students because absenteeism was such a problem in the inner-city adult
high school at which she taught. But she had chosen not to mention this interesting consideration in the
seminar. On the other hand, arguing that Helen did not feel intimidated is that she expressed the idea that
the site had been well received and, importantly, at the time of the interview she was planning on showing
it to a different online seminar in Tapped In the next week. Thus, although Helen appears to have some
ambivalence, we take her willingness to try the same thing another time in Tapped In as demonstrating a
Marty’s ability to deliver as promised shows that it is possible to orchestrate action in the system.
Participants were able to adjust their behavior for the situation and that adjustment was to some measure
FRIENDS AS PROFESSIONALS
Marty’s ability to deliver as promised shows that it is possible to orchestrate action in the system. It is also
presumably important for him and perhaps important for Helen. But what more general conditions does
this interaction reflect? Two linked factors emerge: friendliness and critical thinking.
Marty’s comments about “being among friends” and being “gentle” proved to have been memorable for
other participants. One of the 12 participants we interviewed left before the site was shown. Although one
of the remaining 11 failed to remember the interaction or the site at all (the one that was whispering during
it), three participants spontaneously mentioned Marty’s comments about being friends in the course of
describing their overall experience in the seminar and seven (including Helen) remembered the remarks
when prompted. In several cases, not only did those reminded say they remembered his comment about
being among friends, but their voices brightened noticeably with recognition. The three people who
mentioned this interaction spontaneously were all first time users of Tapped In, while of the seven that
remembered it when asked, only Helen was a new user. This suggests the thought that more experienced
users treat Marty’s friendly stance as reflecting a communal norm.
What does it mean to different participants to say that they’re among friends? We asked our interviewees
whether (or rather in what way) his remark was true. Two people interpreted the remark as having the
face-value meaning that Helen knew people from before (which was not true). Two people took the remark
as reflecting Marty’s position and personality (one commented that Marty was very conscious that his ideas
had friends and foes, and the other that Marty was hip, a relaxed kind of fellow). However, the bulk of the
answers had to do with characterizations of the situation or the group with comments including: “it’s a safe
environment”, “we’re all interested in learning”, “we appreciate everyone’s input”, “it’s a supportive
crowd”, “we’re friends as professionals,” “we’re colleagues.” While friendliness and support are seen as
components of the environment, it is a specific kind of socio-cultural consideration, “friends as
Several behaviors reinforce the idea that even though part of the enterprise that people engage in with
Helen revolves around social consideration, a significant part of it is about professional behavior, and in
particular inquiry. “Being gentle” did not stop participants from making criticisms, contributing
suggestions and asking questions. Some tried to find out more about Helen’s intent and experience.
Additionally, interviews reveal that people tried to look at the site in terms of their own situations and
goals. For example, Barbara was thinking about using the site with fourth graders when she responded.
Robert had it in mind as something that could motivate learning English at the high school level.
Ultimately, the conversation about the web site led to a longer side-conversation about rubrics, what they
are and their place in the educational system.
Was everyone involved in this enterprise of providing critical feedback? Six participants plus Marty made
comments about Helen’s site. Nine did not. There are many reasons they might have been silent, including
wanting the impact of the group to be gentle. Interestingly, it is not clear how deeply Helen herself was
involved in the enterprise of getting critical feedback to use. She never mentioned that as an outcome of the
session and it turns out that she did not have the option of updating the particular web site she showed to
Thus, some participants may have seen the seminar as a potential resource for their own work while others
saw it as an opportunity to stretch their minds by thinking about someone else’s. Nonetheless, each of
these pieces of evidence of critical thinking is evidence of engagement in a capacity that the participants
saw as professional.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
We have focused on an extended interaction in Tapped In during which a novice user comes into the group,
makes a contribution which is constructed as an offer to present a piece of work, is encouraged to show the
work and does so. The leader and the group successfully make the shift from the joint project of using their
critical skills on the web sites of strangers to the joint project of providing critical feedback to someone
actually present. The group has sufficient shared attention and sufficient understanding of the social and
cognitive situation to balance the twin goals of gentleness and inquiry.
This event illuminates the nature of the community in Tapped In in two ways. First, it calls out linguistic
processes at work. For example, Helen is able to make an indirect offer; Marty is able to take her up on it;
other participants are able to use direct address and otherwise adjust their behavior. It also helps identify
some factors that have currency in the system: critical thinking, professionalism and the ability to respond
gently. The attitude of friendliness which the leader displays is remarked on by newcomers and apparently
taken-for-granted by more experienced users.
To gain this understanding of the situation, we supplemented a record of the online interactions with
extensive phone interviews of the participants in which we asked both general questions and questions
about specific events. These questions provided us with data about particular online situations and reactions
of the participants. Thus, we have accounts of not only of what behavior ensued, but also what those
interactions meant to the different participants.
Although previous studies have suggested that people have difficulty building on what others are saying in
synchronous online environments (Herring, 1999), we point to a relatively focused social response at this
delicate moment. Helen takes a big risk in sharing a sample of her professional work ---something that
many teachers have difficulty with (Grossman et al., 2000). In response, the community is true to its basic
purpose of supporting inquiry, but is also sensitive to the differences between criticism in the abstract and
criticizing someone’s work in front of them.
Global patterns of participation in Tapped In suggest that the participants are gaining something. It is
possible that the capacity to make contributions that receive a focused social response is key to the success
that Tapped In has found so far.
Detailed analysis of a single interaction can, as it has in this case, provide
an existence proof of important sociotechnical processes and illuminate how these processes function.
However, future work must continue to probe the workings and also the failures of the community. How
often do newcomers make contributions? Are they encouraged directly or indirectly? Do they feel
encouraged? We may also ask whether extensive newcomer participation ever jeopardizes the overall
project. What do experienced users get out of it? If the current method gives us a “core sample” of this
seminar on this day, we need to get more samples on other days and other places. We have reason to
believe that Helen returned to the system, but is she able to persist? Longitudinal data is needed.
We note that many background factors could be contributing to the ability to create a focused response.
These factors include the codification of the seminar structure, the presence of the facilitator who fields
technological and procedural problems, the technological and pedagogical experience of the leader, the
experience of many of the participants with the system and in the classroom, and the fact that participation
is entirely voluntary and therefore is presumably seen as fulfilling a real need. A more extended treatment
of these data collected in this project will the roles that some of these factors play.
Articulate arguments have been made for the importance of inquiry, dispositions of inquiry and the ongoing
support for inquiry in the lives of classroom teachers (Ball & Cohen, 1999; National Commission on
Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, 2000). Conditions that support critical thinking
and gentleness and therefore, risk-taking and response are closely tied to teachers’ ability to engage in
inquiry. From the perspective of social learning theory, participation is enough to show that learning has
taken place. However, other perspectives may ask what is being learned. Are the things learned enough to
justify this system and its support? It seems worth noting that when the conditions for social engagement
are met, people are in a good position to learn. Insofar as Tapped In supports these processes, its workings
must be of acute interest to analysts, educators and policy-makers.
This research was supported by the National Science Foundation, through their Center for Innovative
Learning Technologies (CILT) (grant # 9720384), and a grant to SRI International to develop methods for
the study of online teacher professional development (REC-9725528). The authors wish to thank Mark
Schlager and the members of the Tapped In community.
Ball, D. L., & Cohen, D. K. (1999). Developing Practice, Developing Practitioners: Toward a Practice-
Based Theory of Professional Education. In L. Darling-Hammond & G. Sykes (Eds.), Teaching as
the Learning Profession. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Baym, N. K. (1997). Interpreting Soap Operas and Creating Community: Inside an Electronic Fan Culture.
In S. Keisler (Ed.), Culture of the Internet. New Jersey: Lawrence Earlbaum.
Brown, P. E., & Levinson, S. C. (1987). Politeness: Some universals in language use. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press.
Bruckman, A. (1998). Community Support for Constructionist Learning. Paper presented at the CSCW,
Cherny, L. (1999). Conversation and Community: Chat in a Virtual World. Stanford CA: CSLI
Clark, H. H. (1992). Arenas of Language Use. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Clark, H. H. (1996). Using Language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Duranti, A., & Goodwin, C. (1992). Rethinking Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Gray, J. (1999). Understanding Online Peers: Sociocultural and Media Processes Among Young
Adolescent Students in the United States. Unpublished Doctoral, Harvard University, Cambridge,
Grossman, P., Wineburg, S., & Woolworth, S. (2000, April, 2000). In Pursuit of Teacher Community.
Paper presented at the AERA, New Orleans.
Herring, S. (1999). Interactional Coherence in CMC. Program in Linguistics, 25.
Isaacs, E. A., & Clark, H. H. (1987). References in conversation between experts and novices. Journal of
Experimental Psychology: General, 116, 26-37.
Keisler, S. (1997). Culture of the Internet. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century. (2000). Before it's too
late.: U.S. Department of Education.
O'Day, V. L., Ito, M., Linde, C., Adler, A., & Mynatt, E. D. (1999). Cemeteries, Oak Trees, and Black and
White Cows: Learning to Participate on the Internet. In C. Hoadley (Ed.), Computer Support for
Collaborative Learning (pp. 360-367). Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University.
Schlager, M. S., Fusco, J., & Schank, P. (in press). Evolution of an Online Education Community of
Practice. In K. A. Renninger & W. Shumar (Eds.), Building virtual communities: Learning and
change in cyberspace. NY: Cambridge University Press.
Schlager, M. S., Fusco, J., & Schank, P. (Winter, 1998/1999). Cornerstones for an online community of
education professionals. IEEE Technology and Society Magazine, 17, 15-21, 40.
Wellman, B. (1997). An Electronic Group is virtually a social network. In S. Keisler (Ed.), Culture of the
Internet. New Jersey: Lawrence Earlbaum.
Wenger, E. (1999). Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge