Student-to-Student Communication in Online Graduate-Level Education Courses

Student-to-Student Communication in Online Graduate-Level Education Courses

Jason C. Vickers (University at Albany (SUNY), USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2682-7.ch001
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In 2014, nearly one million graduate students were enrolled in online courses (Allen & Seaman, 2016), with many of the courses requiring discussions that contributed to students' overall course grades. In this chapter, the author discusses student-to-student communication in online graduate level education courses. Specifically, the author reviews literature salient to online discussions and utilizes original research from three courses in the Spring 2015 term taught by the author to discuss effective practices to increase student-to-student communication. These techniques include creating social presence, establishing discussion criteria, establishing the number of posts, utilizing self-assessment to assist students in creating posts, and student facilitation of discourse.
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This chapter is the result of years of practical trial and error in graduate-level courses and research into elements that make student-to-student communication more worthwhile for participants and communication that results in higher levels of critical inquiry. The author has taught online graduate education courses at a major university in the Northeast for approximately eight years and has conducted extensive research in online teaching best practices. When first beginning teaching, the author wanted to have graduate students construct knowledge through conversation in discussion forums. The first semester teaching an online graduate course, the author had few expectations for post quantity and quality. The author struggled this first semester in assessing student contributions to the discussion boards. Natural questions that arose included “How often should a student post?” and “What does a ‘good’ post look like?” As a result of these questions, the author spent the next few years researching best practices and developing a discussion rubric (see Appendix) to assist graduate students produce high-quality posts and facilitate the assessing of student discussions.

Years passed, with the instructor assessing student communication based on the discussion rubric. This process was not only time-intensive, but the author began to question whether students were benefitting from the instructor discussion feedback and improving their communication in discussions. Informal questions to students revealed that some students only looked at the grade the author assigned and did not review the feedback the author provided for how to improve participation in the discussions. If students were not reviewing instructor feedback on their communication habits, how could they improve their discussions? In response to this, the author researched alternative methods of assessment and ultimately began using student self-assessments of discussion posts.

One of the approaches the author made was to experiment with, and adjust, the self-assessment process for two years and eventually conduct formal qualitative research in three courses the author taught during Spring 2015. Course 1 was an introduction to using technology across the curriculum and consisted of 21 students. Course 2 dealt with issues and innovations of multimedia and consisted of 17 students. Course 3 was an introduction to distance education and consisted of 17 students. A total of 40 graduate students participated in the research. At the end of the courses, students were administered a survey on their perceptions of the self-assessment and rubric. Data were analyzed for common themes and categories at the sentence level using QSR’s NVivo 10. The results of the survey will be shared below. In addition to the survey, the author analyzed the content of student self-assessments, student reflections and journals, and student discussions looking for items that referred to either the self-assessment or the rubric.

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