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Van der Meij, H. & Boersma, K. Th. J. (2002). Email use in elementary school: An analysis of exchange patterns and content. British Journal of Educational Technology, 33(2), 189-200.
E-mail was embedded in a project in design & technology education in elementary school. During a series of lessons children worked in groups on building a flying object. The groups communicated through e-mail with groups of children from another school. The analyses of the e-mails, as viewed from distributed cognition theory, focus on the exchange patterns and content.
Two characteristic exchange patterns are stacking and compounding. In stacking e-mails are sent out quickly enough to afford a ‘just-in-time’ exchange of information. In compounding the e-mails transcend lessons. An ‘old’ section of the e-mail reacts to the partner’s e-mail about a previous lesson. A ‘new’ section deals with the current lesson.
Question-answer exchanges accounted for only about 15% of the communications. Connected discourse with explicit or implicit references to the partner’s e-mail was likewise scarce. Groups mainly connected to each other through adoption, leading to shared scenarios of “We tell you our story – You tell us yours”.
The conclusion discusses the impact of the task on the children’s communication. Among others, a precise definition and teaming of the task is deemed necessary to favour embedded e-mail use. Because the genre of e-mail use in elementary school is yet to be defined the authors caution against imposing many constraints on what children should write to each other.