Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Why Interact Online If It's Not Assessed?

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Why Interact Online If It's Not Assessed?

Article excerpt

Abstract

This paper presents findings from a research project in a university social science course. It explores reasons for the emergence of informal peer-to-peer online learning interactivity. Given that the literature on assessment in higher education indicates that learning is driven by assessment, what motivates students to interact online if such activity is not assessed? Data obtained from social science students at Southern Cross University, Australia, over two semesters has shown us that learners' intrinsic motivation can lead to experience of a shared online environment for critical discussion, knowledge building and the establishment of supportive social communities. It emerged from our research that students valued online discussion whether it was assessed or not.

Introduction

Without attempting to debunk the clearly accepted notion that assessment is critical to learning, this paper explores recent evidence that indicates that online interaction has other intrinsic spin-offs for learners whether assessed or not. A research project, conducted with Bachelor of Social Science students at Southern Cross University shows that students can begin to engage personally with their online peers once they have gained experience and have begun to develop a sense of competence and confidence within the computer-mediated learning environment. We refer to a project conducted in 2000/2001, and discuss the emerging outcomes of this project with reference to students' social and motivational experiences in the construction of knowledge online.

Southern Cross University's School of Social and Workplace Development (SaWD) offers an online Bachelor of Social Science to on-campus and off-campus students. A multidisciplinary development team worked to ensure an effective pedagogy underpinned the course design. In terms of `assessment focus', there is typically a range of options being implemented in SaWD including some online interaction. These include units having no assessable online interaction; those with a compulsory online submission plus encouragement for ongoing interaction; or units with assessable weekly online interaction activities.

Assessment as the Key to Learning

Much has been written which confirms that assessment is the key to learning in traditional settings (Ramsden, 1992). Assessment is also termed the de facto curriculum in distance education contexts (Rowntree, 1977) and the driver of students' approaches to study (Morgan, 1993). Assignments provide learners with opportunities to discover whether or not they understand, if they can perform competently and demonstrate what they've learnt. In this paradigm of learning through assessment, new innovations in teaching and learning such as text-based discussion online, are often incorporated in an assessment scheme to ensure student participation. However, is this truly the key motivator in the online environment? Will students engage in dialogue with each other, if they are not assessed for doing so?

It is also clear that feedback and grades communicated by assessors to students serve to both teach and motivate (Thorpe, 1998). So, in terms of formative feedback, are students recognising the benefits of non-assessed interaction online for their motivation and learning? Can we use the unique opportunities provided by the online environment to enable students to give and receive constructive feedback on a one-to-one basis rather than relying on the input of academic or student support staff?.

What Is Interaction Online and Why Do It?

`Interaction' can be broadly defined as including:

   * learners' interaction with content in terms of their level of critical
   thinking and critical reasoning skills and,

   * learners' interaction with others in terms of negotiation of meaning and
   co?construction of knowledge in shared learning environments (Sringam and
   Greer, 2000, pp. … 
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