Using Traditional Classroom Facilitation Methods in Online Discussion

Using Traditional Classroom Facilitation Methods in Online Discussion

Maura Valentino (University of Oklahoma, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61350-077-4.ch018
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This chapter studies the impact of the facilitator on the effectiveness of an online discussion forum. The study examined, categorized, and statistically analyzed 224 discussions from eight online courses. The results demonstrated that facilitators are presented with many opportunities to increase the probability of a successful learning experience and that facilitators should be encouraged to develop new approaches to improve the quality of online discussions by leveraging the unique qualities of an online discussion environment.
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“Discussion is a valuable and inspiring means for revealing the diversity of opinion that lies just below the surface of almost any complex issue . . . To see a topic come alive as diverse and complex views multiply is one of the most powerful experiences we can have as learners and teachers” (Brookfield, 1999, p. 3).

Educators interested in improving their students’ learning experiences have devoted considerable time and effort to the study of the ways in which classroom discussion can be used as an effective tool. It is not surprising that such efforts have focused primarily on face-to-face discussions conducted in a classroom environment. Given the growing importance of Internet delivered courseware to educational institutions, it is important that the pedagogical tools used in connection with this new educational environment be examined to determine if traditional tools can continue to function effectively.

Patterned after Internet user forums and often intended to replace the role of traditional classroom discussions as a forum for students and teachers to explore opinions and ideas and to ensure successful knowledge transfer, the discussion board has become a key component in the delivery of many online classes. Traditional face-to-face classroom discussions have been shown to promote improved learning outcomes and teachers are well trained in facilitating such discussions to help ensure their success. This chapter will study whether equally effective use is being made of discussion boards used in connection with courseware delivered via the Internet.



“Democratic discussion works best when a large number of students participate, when they do so on many different issues, and when what they contribute adds depth and subtlety to the discussion” (Brookfield, 1999, p. 9).

This paper proposes that, as with discussions conducted in a traditional classroom setting, the involvement of the facilitator is a key element in ensuring the effectiveness of a discussion in an online environment. To study this thesis, 224 class conversation threads from eight online courses were examined. These conversation threads were selected from a variety of courses conducted via the Internet as a part of an MSLIS program at a private University in the Northeast.


Literature Review

A review of the relevant literature revealed extensive scholarship on the topic of classroom participation and the facilitator’s role in improving the effectiveness of such discussions. However, almost all such literature focused on face-to-face discussions conducted in a traditional classroom environment. Only a small percentage of the literature focused specifically on issues relating to discussions conducted in an online learning environment or on the differences between the classroom and online experience.

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