Academic journal article International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education

Exploring the Behavioural Patterns of Knowledge Dimensions and Cognitive Processes in Peer-Moderated Asynchronous Online Discussions

Academic journal article International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education

Exploring the Behavioural Patterns of Knowledge Dimensions and Cognitive Processes in Peer-Moderated Asynchronous Online Discussions

Article excerpt

Introduction

As an asynchronous tool, discussion forums have been used either as a main means for communication and interaction in distance education (Lee & Tsai, 2011) or utilized as a complementary method to face-to-face teaching (Zhan, Xu, & Ye, 2011). With few drawbacks, it offers many advantages including promoting self-regulated and active learning, facilitating collaborative knowledge construction, supporting critical thinking, and promoting reflective and thoughtful content in discussions (Wang & Woo, 2007; Wong & Bakar, 2009). However, advanced cognitive processing and knowledge construction in asynchronous online discussions (AOD) requires some sort of intervention (De Smet, Van Keer, & Valcke, 2008).

To assist AODs, various interactive instructional strategies can be used (Kanuka, Rourke, & Laflamme, 2007; Sung, Chang, Chiou, & Hou, 2005). However, as Hou (2011) suggested, instructors' real-time intervention is needed to enhance both deep and broad interactions in an AOD. Nonetheless, some researchers (e.g., Correia & Baran, 2010; Seo, 2007) have started to question whether an instructor is the most effective facilitator. Many instructors may not be able to dedicate the amount of time and effort needed for proper facilitation of AODs since it is very time consuming and tedious work (Correia & Baran, 2010). Moreover, a discussion facilitated by an instructor may result in an instructor-centred discussion (Seo, 2007). It is therefore a matter of controversy as to which strategy promotes more positive outcomes-instructor facilitated or peer moderation. Peer moderation can be an alternative to instructor moderation and be used as a potential solution.

Learning in a peer-moderated asynchronous online discussion (PMAOD) may be considered a specific type of collaborative learning in the form of computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) (Topping, 2005), where participants are assumed to negotiate meaning in small groups and one peer assumes the supportive role as peer moderator. Researchers investigating collaborative learning and peer moderation frequently refer to frameworks building on Vygotsky's social -cultural theory. Vygotsky (1978) emphasized that knowledge is interpersonal before it becomes intrapersonal, and in order to foster the construction of the former, social interaction is crucial. Consequently, peer collaboration and peer moderation can be regarded as an important benefit of collaborative learning. Furthermore, Vygotsky's theory on the "zone of proximal development" (ZPD) appears to support the effectiveness of peer moderation. The ZPD is "the distance between the actual developmental levels as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers" (Jaramillo, 1996, p. 139). ZPD pertains to peer moderation since this type of collaborative learning is characterized by the adoption of specific roles, where one partner clearly takes a direct pedagogical role by creating learning opportunities in the group through questioning, clarifying, and active scaffolding (Roscoe & Chi, 2008).

In recent years, researchers (e.g., Hung & Crooks, 2009; Ng, Cheung, & Hew, 2009) have investigated the advantages of adopting peer moderation strategy in AODs to support high quality collaborative learning. For example, Zha and Ottendorfer (2011) adopted a peer moderation strategy in an undergraduate basic immunology online course (N = 216) to investigate its effect on students' cognitive achievement. They used Bloom's taxonomy (Bloom & Krathwohl, 1956) as the framework to examine students' cognitive achievement. They found that peer moderators in online discussions outperformed respondents in terms of lower-order cognitive achievement. A similar peer-led strategy was used in a study in a graduate-level communications networks course delivered asynchronously to a cohort group of 17 adults (Rourke & Anderson, 2002). …

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