Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Asynchronous Forum as a Discussion Tool in a Preparatory Reading Course for First Year Distance Learners

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

Asynchronous Forum as a Discussion Tool in a Preparatory Reading Course for First Year Distance Learners

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study involved distance learners who enrolled as part time students with the Allied Sciences Faculty, National University of Malaysia. Most of these students are adult learners who possess a Diploma in Health Sciences and are attached to various health institutions throughout Malaysia. These students had to take a preparatory reading course during their first year to facilitate reading health-related references which are written in English. In this course, the course designers assigned two assignments which the students needed to complete through the online forum discussion. The main aim of these assignments was to assist them in developing comprehension of the two units in the course materials which were in the form of hypermedia documents. Besides the given course materials, they were also encouraged to do further reading from the prescribed websites and other relevant sources related to the themes of the two units. Due to limited contact hours face-to-face, online forum is considered an important medium of communication particularly for distance learners who have little opportunity to attend face-to-face tutorials and discussions. Hence, this study was embarked on in order to find out the benefits of the online forum as a communication platform to enhance the students' reading comprehension of health sciences materials. This study adopts the qualitative approach whereby distance learners were interviewed to collect data. They were also given a questionnaire to corroborate the data from the interviews. The online forum threaded discussions of a set of class of 22 students were also analyzed. The results of this study prove that online forums do enhance the students' reading comprehension.

Keywords: asynchronous forum, teaching and learning, reading, distance learners

1. Introduction

It is necessary for the researcher to provide a brief background on the role of the English language in Malaysia's education system so that the importance of a preparatory reading course at the tertiary level particularly at the National University of Malaysia (UKM) can be well understood. The national language in Malaysia is the Malay language. As such, Malay serves as a medium of communication as well as instruction. The English language is only taught as a subject at both primary and secondary schools. Before the year 2000, all subjects were taught in Malay except for English. Hence in the Malaysian context, the English language is considered as a "second" language to the Malay language. This education practice resulted in most Malaysians being able to understand and read in English; however, only a small percentage of Malaysians are highly proficient in the language. When the students enrol at the tertiary level, this lack of proficiency in the English language becomes more apparent. At the tertiary level, most references are in English. Malaysian students must understand the references in order to make academic presentations, complete their assignments and answer evaluation questions. Therefore, for allied sciences students, a preparatory reading course namely English for Life Sciences (ELS) was made compulsory. The main objective of the course is to equip students with relevant reading strategies, linguistic aspects and enrich the vocabulary of all first year students of the Allied Sciences Faculty, National University of Malaysia (UKM). The knowledge is pivotal to their reading of health sciences materials.

Allied Sciences faculty has two cohorts of students: on-campus and off-campus students. The ELS on-campus students were fully guided by the lecturers throughout the semester whereby the off-campus students or distance learners were instructed to become self-directed learners due to their geographical distance and also their work commitments. These distance learners who are working adultswould have to read and understand the materials on their own with minimum guidance from their lecturer and limited face-to-face assistance from their classmates. …

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