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The Socratic dialogue in asynchronous online discussions: is constructivism redundant?

Paul Kingsley (Computer Science Department, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, UK)

Campus-Wide Information Systems

ISSN: 1065-0741

Article publication date: 8 November 2011




This paper aims to examine Socratic dialogue in asynchronous online discussions in relation to constructivism. The links between theory and practice in teaching are to be discussed whilst tracing the origins of Socratic dialogue and recent trends and use of seminar in research based institutions.


Many online degree courses employ asynchronous discussions where the teacher, acting as a moderator, is seen as the guide on the side rather than the sage on the stage. Such an approach, employing collaborative learning, is often described as constructivist. Practitioners may see the term constructivist as simply a convenient label to describe a range of effective teaching practices. Even when it is said that knowledge is constructed, this may be viewed as little more than a metaphor. There are however, behind these labels, epistemological theories such as radical constructivism and social constructivism which pose serious challenges to traditional views that perception is guided by contact with an independent reality and that science involves a search for objective truth. Many significant philosophical objections can be raised against these theories. The links between the theory and teaching practices of proven value are tenuous. There is an alternative explanation of the origins of teaching practices associated with asynchronous discussions.


Asynchronous discussion makes it possible for all students to make an initial written contribution based on both research and industry experience, as well as an extensive participation in a written debate. The relative ease of assessing contributions to a written debate helps overcome the problem of the seminar where only one person may get credit for his or her contribution. Contributions can to a great extent be made when it is convenient for both moderator and students.

Research limitations/implications

The present study has considered the case of one institution; it will be useful to examine it for many.

Practical implications

Asynchronous online discussion is one of the highest forms of Socratic dialogue.


This is a different approach to the traditional belief and new ideas for consideration are presented. The Socratic dialogue has been developed as both an oral and written tradition from the works of authors like Plato, through to the development of the medieval university with its disputations and oral examinations, the introduction of seminars in research based universities inspired by Humboldt, the development of scholarly journals, and on to the asynchronous online discussions in the era of the Web.



Kingsley, P. (2011), "The Socratic dialogue in asynchronous online discussions: is constructivism redundant?", Campus-Wide Information Systems, Vol. 28 No. 5, pp. 320-330.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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