Academic journal article Asian Social Science

The Use of Asynchronous Forum to Enhance Reading Comprehension of Distance Learners

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

The Use of Asynchronous Forum to Enhance Reading Comprehension of Distance Learners

Article excerpt

Abstract

The Internet is widely available in Malaysia and due to improved bandwidth, and students now spend considerable time reading online materials (hypermedia documents) in order to complete their assignments. This is especially the case for distance learners who have little opportunity to attend face-to-face tutorials and rely instead on course materials that are uploaded to the institution's website. This case study explored the extent to which an asynchronous forum enhances the reading comprehension of distance learners specific to Life Sciences hypermedia documents. As part of their assignments, students discussed two questions via the online forum which were designed with the intent of assisting them in developing fuller comprehension of two course units. Semi-structured interviews, observations and document analysis (online forum discussion threads) were employed to assess effects. It was found that feedback through discussion via an asynchronous forum enhanced levels of comprehension for the students involved. It was also found that an asynchronous forum provides ample time for students to read extensively and subsequently discuss subject materials when they are ready to do so, and in a convenient manner. It was also found that students obtained and shared information from a myriad of sources which promoted intensive and extensive reading. It is believed that this study provides insights that will assist course designers as well as teachers in increasing student reading comprehension through asynchronous forum, in terms of the needs, difficulties and requirements of distance learners.

Keywords: asynchronous forum, reading online, reading comprehension, distance learners

1. Introduction

Malay is the national language of Malaysia and functions as a medium of communication and instruction throughout the country. The English language is only taught as a subject in primary and secondary education. This educational policy has resulted in most Malaysians being able to read and communicate in English but only a small percentage of the population is highly proficient in the language, particularly at the level of academic. The educational system changes when students enrol in most higher education institutions in the country, however. At the tertiary level students are expected to comprehend reference texts, which are typically written in English, in order to make academic presentations, complete assignments and answer evaluation questions.

Given this, a preparatory reading course entitled "English for Life Sciences (ELS)" was made compulsory for first year Bachelor students registered in the Faculty of Allied Sciences, National University of Malaysia (UKM). This course is designed to confer reading strategies, and improve linguistic skills and student vocabulary in the Life Sciences with the objective of improved understanding of the field's academic texts. This course has succeeded in achieving its objectives when offered to on-campus students. Challenges have arisen, however, when it is offered to distance learners. Previously, course faculty would travel to each state in Malaysia to deliver face-to-face tutorials and lectures to distance learners. These students are typically adult learners serving in municipalities, hospitals and health institutions throughout the country. While online learning is well established in developed countries, it is a relatively new phenomenon in Malaysia. Recently, however, Malaysia has initiated a lifelong learning educational policy (Zaini, 2008) in which online learning plays a key role. Given this, online education and distance education have increased significantly in the country's public universities given the logistical advantages on offer (time, cost and inconvenience of travel).

A significant challenge of online learning is the sense of isolation students experience as they seek to overcome learning difficulties individually or with little assistance from classmates or faculty (Rugayah et al. …

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