Fei Gao
Ohio University
October 29, 2010
Enhancing Connectivity
and Sustainability
in Asynchronous Online Discussion
Sustainability
Connectivity
Two Important Qualities of Discussions
(Guzdial, 1997; Hewitt, 2005; Hewitt & Teplovs, 1999)
(...
Design of Environments
3
Design Principles
Principle 1: The development and growth of
discussions should be made more visible.
Principle 2: The con...
A Concept-Map Based Environment
(Novak, 2006; Nesbit, 2006)
5
A Concept-Map Based Environment
(www.mindomo.com)
6
A Concept-Map Based Environment
7
Research Questions
 How did the discussions in the
discussion map differ from those in the
threaded forum in terms of con...
Threaded
Forum
Concept-Map
Environment
Topic 1:
Simulation
Students in
Group 1&2
Students in
Group 3&4
Topic 2:
Virtual Wo...
Connectivity
Number of system links/thematic links
Number of within-thread /cross-thread links
Sustainability
Number of po...
Within-Thread
Connection*
Cross-Thread
Connection
Forum Map Forum Map
System
2.63
(1.75)
4.75
(3.32)
0.00
(0.00)
0.31
(0.6...
12
Sustainability
* p < .05
Average Number of Posts Per Thread
in the Two Environments
Mean SD
Threaded Forum 2.65 1.37
Di...
13
Sustainability
Frequencies of different size threads
in the two discussion environments
Survey Results – Likert Questions
There is a statistical difference in terms of environment.
[F (1, 15) = 12.40, p < .05]
...
The environment made it EASY
to see the growth and development of a thread of discussion
P<.05
0.38
1.38
-2
-1
0
1
2
Threa...
The environment made it EASY
to extend and build ideas on a thread of discussion
P<.05
0.25
1.38
-2
-1
0
1
2
Threaded Foru...
The environment made it EASY
to see how a post is connected to others
0.25
1.44
-2
-1
0
1
2
Threaded Forum Concept-Map Env...
The environment made it EASY
to make within-thread and cross-thread connections
-0.38
1.69
-2
-1
0
1
2
Threaded Forum Conc...
Design
of
the
Environment
Quality
of
Discussion
Implications & Future Research
19
Design
of
the
Environment
What
Information
Is
Visible
What
Learners
Are
Aware of
Quality
of
Discussion
Implications & Futu...
How can we make important qualities of a
discussion visible to participants?1
Implications & Future Research
21
How can we make important qualities of a
discussion visible to participants?1
2 How does the visibility of these qualities...
How can we make important qualities of a
discussion visible to participants?
3
1
2 How does the visibility of these qualit...
Thank You!
Contact Information:
gaof@ohio.edu
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Enhancing Connectivity and Sustainability in Asynchronous Online Discussion

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  • I would like to focus on two qualities.Sustainability:Defined as the development and growth of discussion.We know that discussions should be sustained to reach the stage of knowledge construction. However, studies show that online discussions are often brief, and the growth and development of discussions are very limited.Connectivity:Making connections to others’ idea is also crucial for building up or accumulating of ideas. But researchers found that in asyn online discussion forums, many learners post condensed comments of their own ideas, and do not respond enough to the ideas of others.
  • Unfortunately, in the threaded forum, neither quality is instantly visible. My question is: Is there a way to improve the two qualities by designing an environment that makes the two qualities more visible?This comes to two more specific questions. Can I make the development and growth of the discussion threads more visible? So that students can easily identify whether and how a discussion is sustained. Can I make the connections among posts more visible? So students will instantly see how the posts are connected with others.
  • To meet the two principles, I decided to develop discussion environment based on concept map.Such an environment has two advantages. First, concept map is a graphic tool: Learners can visually see the development and growth of the discussion, which might encourage the building and extending of a thread, making the discussion a sustained one.Second, one important characteristic of concept maps is the inclusion of cross-links. In a concept map, these cross-links show the relationships or links between concepts in different segments of the map.The green lines in this map represents cross-links. With these cross-links, participants can easily show how their post are connected to multiple posts. This is hard to do in threaded forum.
  • I built this new environment in Mindomo (www.mindomo.com), an online collaborative concept map site. In this environment, the discussion question is presented in a bubble at the center. When participants log in, they can respond to the discussion question or existing posts by adding bubbles. A note can be attached to any bubble, allowing participants to write more elaborated posts. If you click the note icons, you will see the complete post.
  • If you click the note icons, you will see the complete post. Discussion MapA pilot study to compare this environment with the threaded forum
  • I have two general research questions.
  • A MANOVA analysis of the number of within- and cross-thread semantic connections revealed that there was an overall difference between the two environments in terms of semantic connections (See Table 1). Follow-up ANOVAs suggested that the number of within-thread connections was significantly different between the two environments, but the difference in the number of cross-thread connections was not significant
  • Figure 2 shows none of the threads in the threaded forum contained more than five posts. In addition, about half of the threads (10 out of 23) in the threaded forum had only two posts. The discussion map, in contrast, had more large-size threads, that is, 27.3% (six out of 22) of the threads contained over six posts. The analysis indicates that discussions in the discussion map were more sustained than those in the threaded forum.
  • This pair of survey items asked students to rate each environment regarding whether the environment made visible the growth and development of a threadAs indicated by the graph, students rated concept-map based discussion environment significant higher. They feel that in the concept-map based environment, it is easier to see how ideas or threads were developed.
  • This pair asked whether each environment made it easy to extend and build ideas on a thread. Still students rated the … sig better. The visual display of the concept mapThe next pair has to do with connectivity.
  • Students thought it was easier to see how … in the Probably because the … visually showed the connections.
  • When asked…, We see a dramatic difference here. students rated threaded forum very low. the mean is below zero. While for the new environ, the mean isThis suggested that students thought it was much easier to build within and cross thread connection in the new as compared to the threaded forum.The result is not hard to understand. It is not easy to make cross-thread posts in a threaded forum. If you have to make one, You will need to start a new post, by citing the multiple posts you connected to. Others students will not be able to see the connections unless they read the post.Think about how researchers and educators emphasize on the importance of making connection, and synthesizing in online discussions. The survey results simple tell uy the threaded forum is not an ideal or friendly environment for these types of activities.
  • The study has implications for teaching courses with online discussion tools. The environment may have a potential to enhance the sustainability and connectivity of the discussion. Here, the most important thing I have learned is the relationship between design of the environment and the quality of discussion.Based on the study, I formed a hypothesis on how the design of the environment might influence the quality of discussion.
  • First, 1 can determine what …(2)In the first environment I developed, the text visible to the students throughout the discussionthe concept map based environment, the development &amp; connections was visibleSecond, 2 can influence 3In the first environment I designed, aware of the textIn the …, how is developed, how posts are inter-connectedLearners awareness will then affect learners behaviorsAs a result, in the first…, students made more comments to the textIn the …, I expect students to develop the threads, and make connections more frequentlyAll these processes will eventually influence quality in the discussion.
  • The studies lead to many research questions I want to explore in the future. How can we make important qualities of a discussion visible to participants through the design of discussion environments? When the purposes of discussion vary, The desired qualities of discussion vary accordingly. In some cases, sustainability is more important. In some other cases, high level of social presence is more desirable. I want to find out whether it is possible to design different types of environments that make different qualities of discussion visible to the participants. 2. After I have designed these environments, I will askThe emphasis on students awareness is what distinguishes my work from others. There are some studies in this field on the design of online discussion environments. For example, some researchers developed a discussion environment where participants were asked to attach labels such as “evidence,” “assumption,” and “synthesis” to their discussion posts. In such environments, students are explicitly prompted to engage in the desired kind of discussion. That is, students’ participation is more or less a direct response to the requirements of the online environment and, in particular, the requirements of the activity. (In the examples above and many others, students’ participation is more or less a direct response to the requirements of the online environment and, in particular, the requirements of the activity. Students construct knowledge because the design and instructions explicitly require them to engage in the activity of knowledge construction.)I emphasize on awareness of and responsiveness to what is taking place in the discussion. I want to see changes in students’ participation as the result of a heightened awareness than the following of instructions. I want to design environments that evoke good qualities of discussion without requiring students to behave in specific ways.3. Significance of the researchA common critique in this field is that many studies ask the question of “Does technology improve learning” rather than “How does technology improve the learning processes”Dr. Moore pointed out in his recent article about technology literacy, to become truly tech literate, “knowing how we may use it, knowing how it works and knowing how it changes us.”Instead of giving a simple yes or no answer to whether the environment improves discussions/learning, I want to explore the inner mechanism of how it works. Then, when I find the environment does not achieve the desired effect, I will be able to further modify and redesign the environment. When it does work, the understanding of why it works will guide my design of new environments in the future.
  • The studies lead to many research questions I want to explore in the future. How can we make important qualities of a discussion visible to participants through the design of discussion environments? When the purposes of discussion vary, The desired qualities of discussion vary accordingly. In some cases, sustainability is more important. In some other cases, high level of social presence is more desirable. I want to find out whether it is possible to design different types of environments that make different qualities of discussion visible to the participants. 2. After I have designed these environments, I will askThe emphasis on students awareness is what distinguishes my work from others. There are some studies in this field on the design of online discussion environments. For example, some researchers developed a discussion environment where participants were asked to attach labels such as “evidence,” “assumption,” and “synthesis” to their discussion posts. In such environments, students are explicitly prompted to engage in the desired kind of discussion. That is, students’ participation is more or less a direct response to the requirements of the online environment and, in particular, the requirements of the activity. (In the examples above and many others, students’ participation is more or less a direct response to the requirements of the online environment and, in particular, the requirements of the activity. Students construct knowledge because the design and instructions explicitly require them to engage in the activity of knowledge construction.)I emphasize on awareness of and responsiveness to what is taking place in the discussion. I want to see changes in students’ participation as the result of a heightened awareness than the following of instructions. I want to design environments that evoke good qualities of discussion without requiring students to behave in specific ways.3. Significance of the researchA common critique in this field is that many studies ask the question of “Does technology improve learning” rather than “How does technology improve the learning processes”Dr. Moore pointed out in his recent article about technology literacy, to become truly tech literate, “knowing how we may use it, knowing how it works and knowing how it changes us.”Instead of giving a simple yes or no answer to whether the environment improves discussions/learning, I want to explore the inner mechanism of how it works. Then, when I find the environment does not achieve the desired effect, I will be able to further modify and redesign the environment. When it does work, the understanding of why it works will guide my design of new environments in the future.
  • The studies lead to many research questions I want to explore in the future. How can we make important qualities of a discussion visible to participants through the design of discussion environments? When the purposes of discussion vary, The desired qualities of discussion vary accordingly. In some cases, sustainability is more important. In some other cases, high level of social presence is more desirable. I want to find out whether it is possible to design different types of environments that make different qualities of discussion visible to the participants. 2. After I have designed these environments, I will askThe emphasis on students awareness is what distinguishes my work from others. There are some studies in this field on the design of online discussion environments. For example, some researchers developed a discussion environment where participants were asked to attach labels such as “evidence,” “assumption,” and “synthesis” to their discussion posts. In such environments, students are explicitly prompted to engage in the desired kind of discussion. That is, students’ participation is more or less a direct response to the requirements of the online environment and, in particular, the requirements of the activity. (In the examples above and many others, students’ participation is more or less a direct response to the requirements of the online environment and, in particular, the requirements of the activity. Students construct knowledge because the design and instructions explicitly require them to engage in the activity of knowledge construction.)I emphasize on awareness of and responsiveness to what is taking place in the discussion. I want to see changes in students’ participation as the result of a heightened awareness than the following of instructions. I want to design environments that evoke good qualities of discussion without requiring students to behave in specific ways.3. Significance of the researchA common critique in this field is that many studies ask the question of “Does technology improve learning” rather than “How does technology improve the learning processes”Dr. Moore pointed out in his recent article about technology literacy, to become truly tech literate, “knowing how we may use it, knowing how it works and knowing how it changes us.”Instead of giving a simple yes or no answer to whether the environment improves discussions/learning, I want to explore the inner mechanism of how it works. Then, when I find the environment does not achieve the desired effect, I will be able to further modify and redesign the environment. When it does work, the knowledge of why it worked in the past will guide my design of new environments in the future.
  • Enhancing Connectivity and Sustainability in Asynchronous Online Discussion

    1. 1. Fei Gao Ohio University October 29, 2010 Enhancing Connectivity and Sustainability in Asynchronous Online Discussion
    2. 2. Sustainability Connectivity Two Important Qualities of Discussions (Guzdial, 1997; Hewitt, 2005; Hewitt & Teplovs, 1999) (Hara, Bonk, & Angeli, 2000; Larson & Keiper, 2002) A B 2
    3. 3. Design of Environments 3
    4. 4. Design Principles Principle 1: The development and growth of discussions should be made more visible. Principle 2: The connections and relationships among posts should be made more visible. 4
    5. 5. A Concept-Map Based Environment (Novak, 2006; Nesbit, 2006) 5
    6. 6. A Concept-Map Based Environment (www.mindomo.com) 6
    7. 7. A Concept-Map Based Environment 7
    8. 8. Research Questions  How did the discussions in the discussion map differ from those in the threaded forum in terms of connectivity? How did the discussions in the discussion map differ from those in the threaded forum in terms of sustainability? How did students perceive the discussions and learning in the two environments? 8
    9. 9. Threaded Forum Concept-Map Environment Topic 1: Simulation Students in Group 1&2 Students in Group 3&4 Topic 2: Virtual World Students in Group 3&4 Students in Group 1&2  Participants: 16 students in an online course  Procedures: Students worked in groups of 4 Method 9
    10. 10. Connectivity Number of system links/thematic links Number of within-thread /cross-thread links Sustainability Number of posts per thread Number of threads of different size (size means the number of posts in the thread) Perception Student survey responses Data Analysis 10
    11. 11. Within-Thread Connection* Cross-Thread Connection Forum Map Forum Map System 2.63 (1.75) 4.75 (3.32) 0.00 (0.00) 0.31 (0.60) Semantic 2.63 (1.75) 4.75 (3.32) 0.13 (0.34) 0.31 (0.60) 11 Connectivity * p < .05 Mean and Standard Deviation of Links/Connections Created by Individual Student in the Two Environments (n=16)
    12. 12. 12 Sustainability * p < .05 Average Number of Posts Per Thread in the Two Environments Mean SD Threaded Forum 2.65 1.37 Discussion Map 4.41 3.66
    13. 13. 13 Sustainability Frequencies of different size threads in the two discussion environments
    14. 14. Survey Results – Likert Questions There is a statistical difference in terms of environment. [F (1, 15) = 12.40, p < .05] 14
    15. 15. The environment made it EASY to see the growth and development of a thread of discussion P<.05 0.38 1.38 -2 -1 0 1 2 Threaded Forum Concept-Map Environment “[The new environment] allows one to see the whole development of ideas- so you have a better overall view of what's being said.” 15
    16. 16. The environment made it EASY to extend and build ideas on a thread of discussion P<.05 0.25 1.38 -2 -1 0 1 2 Threaded Forum Concept-Map Environment “The visual concept mapping feature naturally lends itself to making connections, developing, and maintaining an atmosphere of conversation.” 16
    17. 17. The environment made it EASY to see how a post is connected to others 0.25 1.44 -2 -1 0 1 2 Threaded Forum Concept-Map Environment P<.05 “[In the new environment,] you could see how many people responded to a post and how it connected to other posts at the same time. 17
    18. 18. The environment made it EASY to make within-thread and cross-thread connections -0.38 1.69 -2 -1 0 1 2 Threaded Forum Concept-Map Environment P<.05 “I guess I'm not sure how you build a cross thread connection on ANGEL threaded forums, except by mentioning it in your post. In the new environment, you can connect with graphic arrows, very cool.” 18
    19. 19. Design of the Environment Quality of Discussion Implications & Future Research 19
    20. 20. Design of the Environment What Information Is Visible What Learners Are Aware of Quality of Discussion Implications & Future Research How Learners Behave 20
    21. 21. How can we make important qualities of a discussion visible to participants?1 Implications & Future Research 21
    22. 22. How can we make important qualities of a discussion visible to participants?1 2 How does the visibility of these qualities influence participants’ awareness during the discussion? Implications & Future Research 22
    23. 23. How can we make important qualities of a discussion visible to participants? 3 1 2 How does the visibility of these qualities influence participants’ awareness during the discussion? How does the awareness of a particular quality affect participants’ behaviors, and therefore the discussion with respect to that quality? Implications & Future Research 23
    24. 24. Thank You! Contact Information: gaof@ohio.edu
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