Transactive discourse in CSCL

Citation Stahl, G. (2013). Transactive discourse in CSCL. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 8(2), 1–3. Springer. Sidewiki
BibDesk PDF




author = {Stahl, Gerry},
date-added = {2013-05-29 11:37:40 -0400},
date-modified = {2013-05-29 23:10:27 -0400},
date-read = {2013-05-29 23:10:27 -0400},
journal = {International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning},
keywords = {discourse; analysis levels; CSCL; transactivity; individual; group cognition; knowledge building; community},
number = {2},
pages = {1–3},
publisher = {Springer},
read = {1},
title = {Transactive discourse in CSCL},
volume = {8},
year = {2013},


My Summary & Reflections

The concept of of "Transactivity"

  • learners' successive building-on of each other's reasoning
  • via shared use of a/synchronous digital media

2 approaches to looking at transaction

  1. unit of analysis: individual, look at mental states of participants, meaning of the transaction (discourse?) located in individual's minds
  2. unit of analysis: small group, meaning of the transaction (discourse?) located in the utterances (of the transaction/discourse) taken a together within the context of the on-going discussion

1 transactive pair of utterances can be a boundary object between the individual and small-group level of analysis

Links here


The previous two issues of ijCSCL explored the multiple levels of analysis characteristic of CSCL research. In this issue, we look at multiple levels in four more papers. p. 1

Two of them explicitly discuss the notion of ‘transactivity’ in this context. They all consider how students—from kindergarten to college—build on each other’s reasoning through the shared use of computer media—synchronously or asynchronously—and how this can be measured and supported. p. 1

The concept of transactivity connotes a spanning of activity across multiple actors. p. 1

Defining transactivity as the reasoning of one utterance building on another utterance’s reasoning p. 1

Defining transactivity as the reasoning of one utterance building on another utterance’s reasoning suggests two ways of looking at transactions: in terms of the distinct utterances of the individuals or the unified interaction in the dyad, small group or community. p. 1

The first approach reduces the description to the individual unit of analysis. p. 1

the entire transaction has been analyzed in terms of mental states of the individuals A and B p. 1

Alternatively, it is possible to analyze the transaction P-Q at the group unit of analysis. p. 1

In this approach, the meaning of the transaction is located in the pair of utterances, P-Q, rather than in the minds of A or B p. 1

An analyst of transaction P-Q must understand the meaning of the pair of utterances taken together, situated in their on-going discourse. p. 2

Such an analysis is at the group level of analysis of the discourse between people. It consists of linguistic analysis of the transactive utterances, not of the mental states of the individual speakers. p. 2

s CSCL researchers, we understand the meanings of transactions between subjects in our data because we are members of the same broad community as our subjects. We can give “thick descriptions” of their utterances in terms of what they mean p. 2

The term “thick description” comes from the philosopher Austin and the anthropologist Geertz p. 2

Austin distinguished a thin description of someone’s eye twitching vs. a thick description of someone winking. An objective description of the physiology or movement of an eyelid might be the same for a twitch or a wink. However, a wink is part of a meaningful transaction between people and must be understood and described as such. This requires subtle cultural knowledge p. 2

A transactive pair of utterances can serve as a boundary object between CSCL analyses at the individual and small-group unit of analysis p. 2

It is important to note that the original conception of transactivity by Wegner and others in the 1980s was significantly different from more recent theories of distributed and group cognition. p. 2

transactivity analyzed group phenomena at the individual unit, as contrasted to theories of intersubjective shared understanding, where knowledge is spread across multiple people and their artifacts or where a group is engaged in building and maintaining a joint problem space, which is co-experienced. p. 2

In the first paper, Richard Alterman and Johann Ari Larusson undertake an extended theoretical and empirical analysis of knowledge creation in loosely coordinated learning activities—specifically in student blogging p. 2

over time, in the emergence of common knowledge from participation in the persistent and growing community blogosphere. p. 2

The next article raises the question of how to support transactivity with scripting. Omid Noroozi, Stephanie D. Teasley, Harm J. A. Biemans, Armin Weinberger and Martin Mulder report on a laboratory experiment in which interactions of dyads with different expertise are scripted in ways hypothesized to increase transactivity p. 2

Read this! May inform CK scripting... p. 2

The study examines the individual and combined effects of these two kinds of scripts on the quality of both joint and individual problem solutions. Interestingly, each of the scripts—designed to support one aspect of transactivity—seems to be beneficial, but when combined the scripts apparently get in each other’s way. p. 3

Florencia Gómez, Miguel Nussbaum, Juan F. Weitz, Ximena Lopez, Javiera Mena and Alex Torres explore a situation in which triads of kindergarten children work together on a single computer with three mice and three distinct areas of the screen p. 3

In keeping with the theory of transactivity, the participants have different but interdependent roles or tasks. p. 3

authors argue that interacting on a single computer increases shared attention, and hence the tendency to build transactively p. 3

Could this argument be made for the Common Board and Knowledge Boards? p. 3

Experimental results show that this combination of individual roles and group interaction—typical of transactivity—are effective in enhancing the social skills of the young children p. 3

The final paper, by Gahgene Gweon, Mahaveer Jain, John McDonough, Bhiksha Raj and Carolyn Rosé, addresses the task of automatically assessing the level of transactivity in a spoken-discourse corpus p. 3

The authors argue that insights from the social psychology and sociolinguistics of speech style imply that a measure of speech-style accommodation should positively correlate with a prevalence of other-oriented transactions in conversation. That is, people tend to accommodate certain acoustic characteristics of their speech—such as variation and average levels of pitch, intensity of speech or the amount of silence and duration of speech—to that of their partner to roughly the same extent that they engage in building on their partner’s reasoning. Thus, an analysis of the acoustics of speech can predict a level of transactive reasoning. p. 3