Peer Assistance and Interaction in an Online Forum

Peer Assistance and Interaction in an Online Forum

Ugur Kale (West Virginia University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61692-854-4.ch008
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Abstract

This study examines peer interaction and peer assistance observed in on an online forum, part of a graduate level instructional design course during the 2008 spring academic term. It incorporates both content analysis and social network analysis techniques. The content analysis results showed that the four types of peer assistance adopted from an existing framework were adequate to categorize the peer assistance that the students received during the study. Students tended to receive more Reflective assistance from their peers if their reading reflections provided high relevance to the course projects. Social network analysis results revealed that while 70% of the students provided peer assistance to one another, they were less likely to go beyond the course requirement of posting toward to end of the semester. Also, a further analysis demonstrated how SNA approach may help examine the influences of actor attributes on their observed communication.
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Theoretical Framework

Peer Assistance

According to the cognitive apprenticeship, learners observe the “performance” of others and start to perform with gradually decreased assistance from more capable others (Collins, Brown, & Holum, 1991). In this view, the more “capable of others” are not only instructors but also students who possess the necessary knowledge to be able to assist other students who lack the knowledge. In online forums, the messages exchanged between students may be in the form of assistance such as feedback, suggestions, or encouragement. Students’ participation level may be different if they receive such assistance and information exchange from their peers as opposed to from their instructors (Poole, 2000), who may actually dominate the discussion. As Mazzolini and Maddison (2003) found, frequent postings from instructors can lead to shorter discussions. Students may tend to rely on instructors’ expertise and thus may feel hesitant to contribute to the discussion if it reflects too much instructors’ point of view.

Even though information exchange among students may be important to their online participation, research examining various types of assistance they provide to and receive from each other is limited. Majority of research focusing on assisting online dialogues examines strategies employed by instructors (Hew & Cheung, 2008) and various types of assistance that peers provide to each other in online settings have not been clearly defined. Thus, the first research question in the current study is:

RQ1. What types of peer assistance did students receive from each other in an online forum?

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