Required Discussion Web Pages in Psychology Courses and Student Outcomes

Article excerpt

We conducted 2 studies that investigated student outcomes when using discussion Web pages in psychology classes. In Study I, we assigned 213 students enrolled in Introduction to Psychology courses to either a mandatory or an optional Web page discussion condition. Students used the discussion Web page significantly more often and performed significantly better in the class when it was a required course activity compared to when participation was optional. In Study 2, we required 211 additional students enrolled in multiple introductory and upper level psychology courses to contribute to Web page discussions. We found positive relations between Web discussion frequency, average word count, total word count, and total course points earned. Instructors may consider implementing required Web discussion pages in their classes to enhance learning.

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Technology provides many exciting, new possibilities for course design and material integration. The Internet has significantly changed the presentation of learning material and how students interact as part of the learning experience, apart from the traditional classroom environment. One important technology for instructors to consider is the incorporation of discussion Web pages into curriculum. Online discussions allow students to share thoughts and experiences outside the physical classroom. This innovation is especially useful to students who may be somewhat reluctant to participate during class time, and online discussion can extend discussions when time constraints and large class size are concerns.

Tiene (2000) investigated the use of online discussions and found that most students reported positive reactions to online discussions, rating them as convenient and reporting that they enjoyed the experience. One advantage to online discussions was the ability to carefully prepare responses and ideas in writing through online interactions. Jiang and Ting (2000) found that in 19 Web-based courses, grade for online discussion and requirements for online discussion were positively related to students' perceived learning. Students believed they experienced more learning in courses that emphasized online discussion. In another investigation, students studying a third-year e-commerce subject in Australia participated in online discussions and in-class discussion (Ellis, Calvo, Levy, & Tan, 2004). Investigators used qualitative and quantitative methods to investigate the quality of experiences through discussion in these two forms. Overall, quality of the students' experience of learning through discussion was positively related to their performance. The researchers concluded that online and face-to-face discussion benefit learning experiences in qualitatively different ways.

Professors can use online discussions effectively in statistics and research methods classes. Wang, Newlin, and Tucker (2001) researched an Internet-based section of a statistical methods in psychology class that included electronic chat room discussions. Overall, student participation in online discussion was positively correlated with final class grade; students who contributed more comments online earned better grades in the class. Specifically, online student responses to problems or examples provided in lecture as early as week three in the semester were correlated with final course grade. Wang et al. (2001) suggested that these online postings can help instructors identify students who need help early in the academic term.

Many universities are now providing online educational experiences for students. Online instruction can promote student-centered learning, due to the interaction potential of learners in cyberspace without the constraints of being physically present in a classroom at set times, but online instruction may not always promote student-centered learning. In their sample, Davies and Graft (2005) found evidence that greater online interaction did not lead to significantly higher student grades. …