Discussion Forums

Why do we meet in person instead of having online discussions?

  1. How can we design/facilitate online discussion groups to promote reflection and critical discussion?
  2. How important is the social climate in online discussion groups, and why?
  3. What can facilitators do to establish a favourable social climate?

Almost all of the articles below are freely available.

Read as much or as little as you want to (lots of options this week!) and feel free to recommend other articles. Most of this week’s recommendations are freely available without paywalls.Please contact us if you have difficulties with links. There are 2 documents available on our Moodle site – details when you register.

1. If you only read one thing…

Schindler & Burkholder (2014) – reviewed various approaches to designing and facilitating online discussion, and drew out 8 strategies to promote learners’ critical thinking.

If you don’t have time to read another paper or prefer to get a flavour of broader range of studies, the ‘Case studies’ document summarises a few of the papers recommended below.

Much of the research around online discussion makes reference to the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model. A brief intro is provided in ‘Background Notes’.

2. Suggest reading one study from the list below (or any other in Schindler & Burkholder that appeals).

For each strategy you read about…
1. Give it a score from 1-10 on how likely you would be to recommend it to a colleague.
2. Do you think the strategy would work for some subjects better than others?
3. Do any aspects of their methodology/analysis make you doubt their results are reliable?

  • Richardson & Ice (2010) – compared students’ preferences and discussion contributions for 3 different types of discussion forum: case-study vs debate vs open-ended discussion (based on COI PI scale)
  • Alexander et al. (2010) – assessed the impact of a structured ‘four questions’ approach on the quality of students’ discussion contributions (based on Washington State University thinking scale)
  • Wise, Saghafian &Padmanabhan (2011) – assigned 10 roles to students and assessed whether these led students to perform intended functions in the discussion and whether the students valued the roles.
  • Darabi et al. (2011) – compared 4 strategies: structured (discussion prompts), scaffolded (mentor questioning), debate and role play (analysis based on CoI PI scale)
  • Belcher et al. (2015) – looked for correlations between instructors’ behaviours and students’ discussion quality (based on Interaction Analysis model)

We may not have time to explore the next bit fully, but if you have time to dip into one or two papers, we can decide whether to come back to it another week.

3. The papers below take quite different approaches to the concept of ‘social presence’ and how it might improve learning online.

For any you read:
1. Did any evidence or argument convince you that social presence directly affects student learning?
2. Did any evidence or argument convince you that social presence affects students’ motivation to contribute to discussion?
3. Suggest two things an instructor can do to create an appropriate social climate for learning.

  • Kehrwald (2008) is a nice introduction to the concept of ‘social presence’ and what is helpful in establishing it. Kehrwald (2010) (much longer) explains how interpersonal relations support learning.
  • Kreijns et al. (2014) is also a good intro to social presence and the COI model. They argue that the quality of interpersonal relations in a group (‘social space’) is the most important aspect of social presence.
  • Garrison (2007) provides a concise description of his CoI framework and explains particular issues with each of the 3 elements. He argues that social presence shouldn’t be prioritised independently of cognitive or teaching presence.
  • Maddrell et al. (2011) critique the CoI model then report their study of 5 blended graduate courses. They looked for correlations between students’ perceptions of each of the 3 CoI elements, their satisfaction, their perception of their own learning and their instructors’ assessments of their learning.

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