What Makes Learners Share Feedback or Not in an Online Community for Education

What Makes Learners Share Feedback or Not in an Online Community for Education

Joseph Budu (School of Technology, Ghana Institute of Management and Public Administration, Accra, Ghana)
DOI: 10.4018/IJICTE.2018040104
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Some higher education institutions create online communities to achieve engagement between teachers and learners. Unfortunately, some members seem to prefer sharing feedback via offline means instead of doing so in the online community. From qualitative data collected via flashcards, this article has found that this preference is largely due to their need for anonymity, and convenience that such offline means afford, but is largely absent in most online communities for education, e.g. Google Classroom. In addition, others preferred the offline means because they did not require an online connection – a resource whose absence could be a constraint in a resource-poor area such as the setting of this paper. The findings are discussed in terms of the implications for research and practice, and recommendations proffered.
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1. Introduction

Online communities allow people to communicate with each other on the Internet, and establish some collectivity. The contemporariness of online communities is demonstrated by recent interest that researchers are developing in the area (see Weiger, Wetzel, & Hammerschmidt, 2017). Recent related research about the phenomenon concerns the business value of online communities (Iskoujina, Ciesielska, Roberts, & Li, 2017); how to leverage market-generated appeals to enhance engagement in online communities (Weiger et al., 2017); the affordances influencing members’ engagement with online communities on Twitter (Bernardi, 2016); individual-, community-, and organizational-level negative behaviors in online communities (Chipidza & Talebi, 2016); and the effect of participants’ roles and position on their information sharing activities (Baek & Kim, 2015). Despite the usefulness of such studies, their focus suggests an oversight of the role that members’ anonymity can play in the life of online communities.

Anonymity should feature prominently in the study of online communities for several reasons. First, there are several tools and technologies available for users to obtain anonymity online (Winkler & Zeadally, 2015). Users are increasingly adopting such tools to prevent identity traceability. Whilst some may want anonymity for negative reasons like creating offensive content to upset a victim (Chipidza & Talebi, 2016), some also derive positive emotional attachment and benefits from other members through this virtual space (Bernardi, 2016). The obvious but not necessarily true assumption about these effects is that often people want anonymity to foment trouble and to perpetuate negative behaviors (Choi, Lim, & Woo, 2016). Second, existing evidence suggests that people are increasingly becoming aware of, and interested in preventing traceability and identification so that their activities online are anonymous (Larsson, Svensson, de kaminski, Ronkko, & Olsson, 2012). Third, the effects of user anonymity on behaviors in online communities cannot be overemphasized. For instance, laboratory experiment results suggest that anonymous users in online communities are more willing to express their opinions on controversial topics (Luarn & Hsieh, 2014).

The purpose of this paper was to explore the impact of anonymity on the members’ propensity to share feedback in online communities for education. This paper found that members of an online community for education are concerned about anonymity in sharing feedback, because it allows them to share information which may be distasteful to another member, however true and candid. Some would not share feedback because their comments could be traced back to them. Due to the context of this study, other members expected the provision of Internet connectivity to enable them access the online community. These findings extend current research with the impact of user anonymity on member behavior in such digital spaces.

This paper has five sections. The first section introduces and summarizes existing research on online communities to establish the research problem. The second section reviews existing research to strengthen the case for undertaking this study. The third section presents this paper’s research methodology. The fourth section contains the results, whilst the fifth section presents discussions, conclusion and recommendations.

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