Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Patterns of Interaction and Participation in a Large Online Course: Strategies for Fostering Sustainable Discussion

Academic journal article Educational Technology & Society

Patterns of Interaction and Participation in a Large Online Course: Strategies for Fostering Sustainable Discussion

Article excerpt


The use of online courses and web-based communication has been growing exponentially with the expansion of online technology in colleges and universities. According to the results of a survey administered by the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES), 56 percent of all degree-granting higher education institutions offered distance education courses in 2000-2001. 12 percent of all institutions showed that they planned to offer a distance education course in next 3 years (Waits & Lewis, 2003). The results from the most recent survey supported by Alfred P. Sloan Foundation confirmed fast growth of online learning in higher education. Over 4.6 million students were taking at least one online course during the fall 2008 term and more than one in four higher education students now take at least one online course based on the results (Allen & Seaman, 2010). Accordingly, fora have been considered one of the important components of online course (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2001; Marra, Moore, & Klimczak, 2004) with its widespread use.

Online for a characterized by asynchronous, text-based, and many-to-many communication have provided learners with flexible time and place independent learning, and facilitate a learning community with higher level of thinking with much learner-learner interaction (Bodzin & Park, 2000; Moore & Mara, 2005; Tutty & Klein, 2008). Learners have opportunities to share their own experience with peers in a shared electronic place which contributes to forming a good relationship (Chai & Tan, 2009). Text-based asynchronous interaction facilitates critical reflection by threaded discussion and enough time to reflect, think, and search for information (De Wever, Schellens, Valcke, & Van Keer, 2006; Pena-Shaff & Nicholls, 2004). All contents of online interaction are permanently stored and thus it helps students reflect on the learning process (Li, 2004). Suitable scaffolding and easily following the flow of discussion in online forums result in collaborative learning (Kanuka & Anderson, 1998; Veerman & VeldhuisDiermanse, 2001). Sharing experiences, negotiating the meaning, and exchanging of resources and perspectives contribute to facilitating collective knowledge construction (Gunawardena, Lowe, & Anderson, 1997; Kanuka & Anderson, 1998; Moore & Marra, 2005). Students practice debate skills and gain deeper understanding by interaction with peers as a result (Reiser & Dempsey, 2002).

Despite the educational potential of using asynchronous threaded discussion, studies still found that students spent too much time presenting their ideas to develop discussion (Hathorn & Ingram, 2002). They often produced discussions that lacked relevance, and participated less in a discussion (Islas, 2004). Students sometimes did not read peers' postings and posted only to meet the required numbers (Bodzin & Park, 2000). Students often simply posted answers to the questions and relied heavily on the instructor's feedback (Chai & Khine, 2006).

As a result, online fora could not unconditionally guarantee educational potentials for the instructor. Learners' ways of communication in online fora did not simply transfer from face-to-face to online environments, thus it is necessary to develop appropriate e-pedagogies (Li, 2008-2009). Tutty and Klein (2008), for example, suggested that face-to-face collaboration might be better suited for learning regarding well-defined facts and procedures. Virtual

collaboration might be better suited for learning regarding ill-structured problem solving. They also suggested use of asynchronous communication to large group and synchronous communication to small group. Veerman and Veldhuis-Diermanse (2001) reported that more off-task related messages occurred in synchronous fora and more task related, constructive, and high level of knowledge construction messages occurred in asynchronous fora. …

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