Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Do College Students Participate More in Discussion in Traditional Delivery Courses or in Interactive Telecourses? A Preliminary Comparison

Academic journal article Journal of Higher Education

Do College Students Participate More in Discussion in Traditional Delivery Courses or in Interactive Telecourses? A Preliminary Comparison

Article excerpt


An arena of social interaction that has escaped the attention of many faculty members is one in which they participate frequently. In the college classroom, patterns of interaction develop as students and instructors negotiate a definition of the situation (Goffman, 1959, 1961; McHugh, 1968) with regard to classroom norms. Karp and Yoels (1976) first identified the consolidation of responsibility as a major norm in the college classroom. The consolidation of responsibility means that, regardless of class size, a handful of students (five to seven) account for the vast majority of interactions in any given class session. Fritschner (2000), Howard and Baird (2000), Howard and Henney (1998), Howard, Short, and Clark (1996), and Jung, Moore, and Parker (1999) also found the consolidation of responsibility to be an operative norm in traditional delivery college classrooms.

Faculty members ought to be concerned with the percentage of students participating in their courses, because there is substantial evidence to suggest that students learn more when they are actively engaged with the material, their instructor, and their classmates (see for example, Astin, 1985; Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1991; Kember & Gow, 1994; McKeachie, 1990; Meyers & Jones, 1993). A second reason for concern is that research suggests that critical thinking is fostered by students' active participation in learning (Garside, 1996; Smith, 1977). Instructors can also use classroom discussion to lead students through different levels of learning (Brookfield, 1995; Steen, Bader, & Kubrin, 1999). The increased use of distance education delivery formats for college courses is a third reason to be concerned with student participation in classroom discussion. While asynchronous (e.g., via listservs) or synchronous (e.g., via chatrooms) online discussions have often been suggested as a substitute for classroom inte raction in web-based courses, telecourses present unique problems for student engagement. Instructors need to consider how the mode of delivery impacts the level and quality of student participation and student learning.

Literature Review

Previous studies of participation in discussion in traditional classrooms have focused on issues of student gender (see Auster & MacRone, 1994; Constantinople, Cornelius, & Gray, 1988; Cornelius, Gray, & Constantinople, 1990; Crawford & MacLeod, 1990; Fassinger, 1995; Karp & Yoels, 1976), student age (Fritschner, 2000; Howard & Baird, 2000; Howard & Henney, 1998; Howard, et al., 1996), instructor gender (Brooks, 1982; Fritschner, 2000; Howard & Baird, 2000; Howard & Henney, 1998; Pearson & West, 1991; Sternglanz & Lyberger-Ficek, 1977), class size (see, for example, Constantinople, et al., 1988; Crawford & MacLeod, 1990; Fassinger, 1995; Howard, et al., 1996); teaching techniques (for example, Nunn, 1996); course level (Fritschner, 2000); and student age (Fritschner, 2000; Howard & Baird, 2000; Howard, et al., 1996; Howard & Henney, 1998; Jung, Moore, & Parker, 1999). A largely unexamined aspect of student participation in classroom discussion is that of participation in distance education courses, especially in comparison to traditional delivery courses.

In 1997-98, almost 44% of all higher education institutions offered distance education courses (Council for Higher Education Accreditation, 2000). Wirt (2000) reported that 91% of all public 2- and 4-year post secondary institutions either had already scheduled or planned to schedule distance education courses within the next 3 years (p. 84). While much of the focus has been on web-based courses, the older telecourse format of distance education has also experienced a resurgence in popularity with new technology that allows both audio and visual interaction between different sites. …

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