Humanizing the Online Experience Through Effective Use and Analysis of Discussion Forums

Humanizing the Online Experience Through Effective Use and Analysis of Discussion Forums

Hazel Jones (University of Southern Queensland, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2584-4.ch030
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Abstract

Discussion forums are one of the main avenues for communication, interaction and engagement in the online learning environment, yet are often under-utilized or do not have the desired effect of promoting a sense of belonging and deep learning and collaborative learning for students. Limited use of discussion forums and/or lack of guidelines in how to engage, can leave students feeling isolated. Conversely, extensive use can result in students feeling overwhelmed. This chapter considers some key theories and frameworks for using discussion forums, and presents strategies that an academic can implement to promote effective use of their forums. It is through this effective use that students become part of a Community of Inquiry and valued as a person. Through consideration of hypothetical case studies, this chapter also offers practical ways in which staff can sift through the available data to evaluate and improve their teaching practice and the learning experience of students.
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Background

Discussion forums are widely used tools that provide an asynchronous opportunity for students and staff to communicate with each other online through written posts. For distance or online learning, discussion forums are generally the main tool for communication and interaction between students and their teachers as well as between each other, whilst in blended learning, discussion forums are used to supplement face-to-face learning. There is a wealth of literature that discusses the benefits of effective online discussions for students, teachers and institutions (MacFadyen & Dawson, 2012; Romero, Lopez, Luna & Ventura, 2013). One of the main benefits for students discussed in the literature relates to correlation between levels of student engagement and student outcomes, and includes the concepts of improved student learning outcomes and grades related to levels of staff engagement (Beer, Clark & Jones, 2014; Jiang & Ting, 2000), and positive links between quality and quantity of posts and student outcomes (Romero et al., 2013). These benefits can be easily measured using quantitative analysis of log data, which probably contributes to the large number of articles that report on these types of measures. Benefits for students that are not as easily measurable, yet may be even more important, include:

  • Providing opportunities for students to reflect on their own and other’s contributions (Swan, 2001);

  • Higher levels of satisfaction with the learning experience for students who had regular interaction with staff and peers (Swan, 2001);

  • Sense of community (Dawson, 2006);

  • Development of critical thinking (Yang, Newby, & Bill, 2005); and

  • Higher-order thinking (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000).

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