This study explores students’ participation in synchronous e-learning interactions to understand its nature and improve its effectiveness. An innovative synchronous videoconferencing technology was used to examine the assumptions of the Medium Naturalness Theory (Kock, 2005), which compares the characteristics of different media to face-to-face communication, having the highest degree of naturalness. The data was collected in two settings: (1) a controlled lab experiment (76 participants), in which teaching-learning interactions were compared across three communication channels (face-to-face, one-way and two-way synchronous lessons) and (2) synchronous lessons in real-life academic courses (87 participants). Four factors that play a major role in participation in online discussions were examined: medium naturalness, teaching-learning style, personality traits (extroversion-introversion and emotional stability-neuroticism), and the growing acquaintance between participants as the course progresses. The findings of Study 1 revealed passive learning behavior among the majority of participants, who tended not to interrupt the instructor's lecture, spontaneously ask questions, or initiate interactions. However, participation was much higher and more frequent when the instructor explicitly encouraged the students to participate, comment, and ask questions. As for the effect of personality traits, extroverts spoke more in almost all types of teaching-learning interactions; however, no effect was found for emotional stability-neuroticism. Consistent with the findings of the first study, the findings of Study 2 indicated that transferring the responsibility for learning from the instructor to the students, by allowing them to “lead” the lesson, promoted their participation and initiation of interactions. We discuss the implications for theory and design of synchronous interactions.
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