Academic journal article Higher Education Studies

Pedagogical Implications of Using Discussion Board to Improve Student Learning in Higher Education

Academic journal article Higher Education Studies

Pedagogical Implications of Using Discussion Board to Improve Student Learning in Higher Education

Article excerpt


This study reports on the pedagogical implications of using the Blackboard feature Discussion Board (DB) to improve students' learning in higher education. The study sample included three sections of female students - a total of 155 students - in an undergraduate course at an international university in Saudi Arabia. The impact of using DB on first-year female students' achievement was assessed through quantitative analyses of pre- and post-tests. The effect of DB on students' attitudes was ascertained by means of qualitative analyses of students' responses to a post-treatment questionnaire. The results indicated that students in the experimental group showed a greater degree of improvement in test scores than those in the control group, and that posting to Blackboard was positively related to improvement among those in the control group but not among those in the experimental group.

Keywords: blended learning, distance education, Blackboard, Discussion Board, higher education, class online discussion, online class discussion, collaboration, Saudi female students

1. Introduction

Online communication is becoming an essential element of higher education in many parts of the world. Many studies have discussed the advantages, disadvantages and limitations of using online learning, blended learning, web-based learning, virtual learning environments and online discussions. Al-Hosan and Oyiad (2010) refer to one major advantage of online learning: it offers an individualized learning experience that fulfills the educational needs of students with different learning styles (p. 798). Virtual learning environments also offer flexibility in terms of time and place (Barbour & Reeves, 2009). Another of their most important advantages is the ease with which the information provided can be continuously modified, thus helping to make learning more enjoyable and individualized (Al-Shanak & Doumi, 2009). As explained by Garrison and Anderson (2003), online learning is emerging as "a practical necessity in the realization of relevant, meaningful, and continuous learning" (p. 23).

Various studies have pointed to the importance of communication between instructors and students. Al-Fadda and Al-Yahya (2010) describe the use of blogs to encourage pre-class reading assignments and to enhance learning and discussion during class (p. 105). They found blogs to be an effective tool for encouraging students to do pre-class readings and to engage in post-class reflections. This research is also valuable for its evaluation of students' general attitudes towards the use of blogs in higher education.

Online learning environments are increasingly becoming a staple component of teaching and learning in higher education. The influence of these environments on the nature of the communication that takes place within courses has huge pedagogical implications (Wilkinson & Barlow, 2010, p. 1). In this paper I demonstrate that the use of Discussion Board (DB), which is a feature of Blackboard (BB), to help students share and debate can be a catalyst for the transformation of educational practices for the better if it is supported by educational pedagogies that enhance critical thinking and metacognitive learning skills.

2. Method

Religion and culture in Saudi Arabia shape not only people's attitudes, practices and behaviours, but also their construction of the reality of their life. Similarly, the social environment, in the case of the integration of online and face-to-face learning, exerts considerable influence on students' perceptions. This makes social-constructivism theory appropriate for this study's attempt to understand the perceptions of instructors and students in regard to blended learning in Saudi society.

The main research question concerns how the use of DB as a pedagogical tool in higher education is related to changes in test scores. Three groups of first-year university students participated in the study: two groups employed DB to discuss the course readings prior to class and to reflect afterwards on the issues and cases that had been discussed in the classroom, while the third group did not have this requirement and relied on the set textbooks only. …

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