This paper describes a virtual seminar initiative designed to investigate the extent to which computer‐mediated communication (CMC) can cost‐effectively strengthen staff‐student interaction and enhance student group discussion, and thereby improve collaborative learning. After setting the scene by means of a brief review of the discursive potential of CMC, the establishment of an asynchronous bulletin board system on three modules in the Department of Sociology at the University of Manchester using industry standard software is described. Detailed time diaries kept by all staff involved revealed that organizing and running the virtual seminars were very much less time‐consuming than running face‐to‐face seminars. However, analysis of the students’ access to and mage of the virtual seminars indicates that some of them were disadvantaged by CMC and that they favoured face‐to‐face contact with lecturers over virtual seminars. The latter should therefore be part of a portfolio of teaching techniques rather than the sole form of collaborative learning. The conclusion is that a significant obstacle to benefiting from CMC is the further demand on staff time that results from adding virtual seminars as a supplement to existing teaching practices. Even though these extra demands may be modest, effectively deploying the discursive potential of CMC to enhance student learning increases staff effort rather than reducing it, as many have hoped or promised it would
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