Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Participation and Interaction: F2F vs. Online

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Participation and Interaction: F2F vs. Online

Article excerpt


Research has shown that traditional college classrooms do not produce copious classroom discussion or participation and interaction is largely teacher directed. Current distance education pedagogy promotes extensive student-to-student interaction. This project involved researching student interaction and participation. Research methods included faculty interviews, classroom observations, analysis of student course evaluation forms and online database transcripts. The results of the study showed that online classes generated more interaction and discussion than traditional face-to-face classes and upper level classes produced more discussion and interaction than lower level classes.


The constructivist paradigm views students as inquirers or explorers--not as passive recipients of knowledge. Students must play an active role in knowledge construction and learning is based on social interaction. Learning through discussions or conversations has traditionally been viewed as a fundamental part of teaching and learning, particularly in higher education. Research has shown, however, that classroom discussion and participation are sadly lacking in the college classroom. Can online education promote and develop the interaction and participation found lacking in face-to-face college education? The purpose of this study was to determine if online discussions could be more productive and fruitful than that reported in the literature for face-to-face classrooms.

In July 1976, Karp and Yoels published one of the first studies on the apathy of most students in college classrooms and the lack of class participation. They found that a handful of students in all classes account for more than 50% of total class interactions. In classes with fewer than forty students, four or five students accounted for 75% of the total interactions per session. This situation has been termed "the consolation of responsibility". In the typical classroom, participation in discussion will be consolidated in the hands of the few with the majority of students being passive observers.

Karp and Yoels (1976) also found that questions posed by the teacher and teacher comments accounted for 88% of the classroom interactions. Two separate studies in 1983 supported this finding and found that 80% of class time was spent in lecture or "professor talk" (Fisher and Grant 1983; Smith 1983). Fassinger (1995) concluded that the lack of classroom interaction was due to classroom peer groups in "chilly" college class climates.

In 1996, Nunn found that typically only 2.28% of class time was spent in student participation and student talk occupied only about one minute out of a forty minute observation period. Half the students surveyed by Nunn reported that their participation in class was infrequent or never. Howard and Baird, in a 2000 classroom study, attributed low classroom participation rates to the view of "students as customers". Students have purchased the fight to a comfortable environment and should not be made to participate if they do not want to.

In a 2000 study, Fritschner found that in 344 observed class sessions; an average of seven students (25%) participated verbally in class. An average of 4.4 of these 7 students accounted for 70% of all student comments in class. Fritschner, did, however, find more class participation in upper level classes. Students in this study also defined participation differently from their professors. Students viewed participation as attendance, active listening, completing assignments and being prepared for class, not necessarily speaking in class. Students who participated too much were negatively viewed by other students.

A common theme presented in recent research in distance education is that the degree of student satisfaction and retention is related to interaction between the teacher and students (Saba 2000). Satisfaction is increased when students are in frequent contact with the instructor and structured contact is a motivation tool (Coldeway, MacRury and Spencer 1980). …

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