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Enhancing the quality of asynchronous online discussion through the design of discussion environments

Enhancing the quality of asynchronous online discussion through the design of discussion environments



Fei Gao

Fei Gao
2011 AERA presentation
Enhancing the quality of asynchronous online discussion through the design of discussion environments



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  • Asynchronous online discussion play an important role in online courses, and have many possible functions (Dennen, 2008)
  • Hewitt (2001), similarly, noticed that the setup of threaded forums only supports the expanding and branching of the conversation, but provides few support for convergent processes where discussions are summarized or synthesized in meaningful ways. Hewitt (2003) also found participants are more likely to respond to recent posts and less likely to revisit older posts (Educationally, this situation canbe problematic if an excessive focus on new notes unintentionally shifts attention away from important issues.). Thomas (2002) pointed out that the structure of threaded forum "does not promote the interactive dialogue of conversation, but rather leads students towards poorly interrelated monologues" (p.351). Have researchers paid attention to these issues?
  • What happens to the research on designing discussion environment?Promote interactionFor example, in a constrained discussion environment, participants must label each of their posts using a predefined set of message types (Cho & Jonassen, 2002; Moore & Marra, 2005).The rationale is that a prompt suggesting a specific type of post will promote students’ metacognitive thinking, helping them engage in certain cognitive processes (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 1994).Another type of discussion environment use maps or tables to create graphical representations of different viewpoints and their relations. Researchers believe that students benefit from co-constructing graphical representations because the processes of construction may prompt for the externalization of particular cognitive processes, such as linking new claims to an existing argument graph or filling in cells of a table. Suthers and the colleagues (2008) found learners using a representation tools were more likely to state hypotheses early, elaborate on their hypotheses, and integrate them with data than learners using a threaded discussion tool. sustained on-topic discussion:
  • . One possible approach, however, is to embrace the mobile and ubiquitous technologies. Educators and researchers are becoming increasingly aware of the potential of such technologies due to their distinct attributes such as portability and connectivity. These attributes have made mobile devices ideal tools to foster active social interaction (Liu & Milrad, 2010). When learners are able to access the discussions using not only computers, but also mobile devices, they can access and monitor the progress of discussion anywhere anytime. They may be more likely to read and respond to peer’s posts, and consequently maintain a better momentum of discussion.
  • Online discussion serves a variety of purposes, including fostering an online community (Mäkitalo, Häkkinen, Leinonen, & Järvelä, 2002), encouraging information sharing (Hew & Hara, 2007), promoting critical thinking (Chiu, 2009), support the learning of scientific concepts (Hoadley & Linn, 2000) and so on. Effective environments for interaction and discussion will vary when the purpose differs.
  • 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
  • Participants were 16 students enrolled in a graduate online course for in-service teachers.Students worked in groups of 4 and had discussion on two topics. Each discussion last for a week. Similarly, when discussing Topic 1, At the end of the two weeks, students completed a survey on their experiences the two discussion formats.The survey asked students to rate the two environments separately on several aspects including sustainability and connectivity of the discussion. Most of them are likert questions, where students chose from a scale of -2 to 2, with a positive 2 indicating “strongly agree”, and a negative 2 indicating “strongly disagree”. The study was conducted this semester. Based on students’ survey responses, I have some preliminary data on students’ perceptions.
  • 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.

Enhancing the quality of asynchronous online discussion through the design of discussion environments Enhancing the quality of asynchronous online discussion through the design of discussion environments Presentation Transcript

  • Enhancing the Quality of Asynchronous Online Discussion through the Design of Discussion Environments
    Ohio University
  • Outline
    • Problems with Online Threaded Forums
    • Research on Online Discussion Environments
    • Promising Directions for Future Research
    • An Example
  • The Role of Asynchronous Online Discussion
    Promoting reflection and critical thinking in online learning (Luebeck, 2005; Sharma, 2004; Yang, 2008; )
    Supporting online learning community building (DeWert, Babinski, & Jones, 2006; Joeng, 2003)
  • Problems with Threaded Online Forums
  • Research on Discussion Environment Design
    Constrained Discussion Environments(Cho & Jonassen, 2002; Moore & Marra, 2005)
    Knowledge Forum (previously called CSILE) (Scardamalia & Bereiter, 2003)
    Knowledge Mapping/Representation Tool (Suther, et al., 2003; 2008)
    Anchored Discussion Environments(Guzdial and Turns, 2000; Van derPol et al., 2006; )
  • Future Research
    Experimenting with ways of visually displaying the posts and relationships among posts in a discussion
    “It is important to distinguish between the hierarchical structure imposed by the system and the linkages that are implicit in the text of the notes. Online discussions may be much more intertwined and interrelated than the threaded representation indicates.” (Hewitt, 2001, p.210)
  • Future Research
    Exploring the potential of emerging technologies in enhancing the effectiveness of discussion environment design
    “One disadvantage of CMC and CSCA is that students must often wait for replies for several hours or days—waits that inhibit the momentum and flow of discussions.”(Jeong & Frazier, 2008, p.876)
  • Future Research
    Identifying types of discussion environments that best support various purposes and forms of discussion, and investigating how to combine the use of multiple environments to achieve a pedagogical goal.
  • An Example – Design Principles
    (Full article available at http://www.scribd.com/doc/51661931/)
  • An Example – A Discussion Map
    (Full article available at http://www.scribd.com/doc/51661931/)
  • An Example – A Discussion Map
    (Full article available at http://www.scribd.com/doc/51661931/)
  • An Example – A Discussion Map
    (Full article available at http://www.scribd.com/doc/51661931/)
  • Research Question
    Did the discussions in the discussion map differ from those in the threaded forum regarding how discussions were connected?
    Did the discussions in the discussion map differ from those in the threaded forum regarding how discussions were sustained?
    How did students perceive the discussions and learning in the two environments?
    (Full article available at http://www.scribd.com/doc/51661931/)
    • Participants: 16 students in an online course
    • Procedures: Students worked in groups of 4
    (Full article available at http://www.scribd.com/doc/51661931/)
  • 15
    Data Analysis
    (Full article available at http://www.scribd.com/doc/51661931/)
  • 16
    Connected Discussion
    Mean and Standard Deviation of Links/Connections Created by Individual Student in the Two Environments (n=16)
    * p < .05
  • 17
    Sustained Discussion
    Average Number of Posts Per Thread in the Two Environments
    * p < .05
  • 18
    Sustained Discussion
    Frequencies of different size threads in the two 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
    “[The new environment] allows one to see the whole development of ideas- so you have a better overall view of what's being said.”
  • The environment made it EASY
    to extend and build ideas on a thread of discussion
    “The visual concept mapping feature naturally lends itself to making connections, developing, and maintaining an atmosphere of conversation.”
  • The environment made it EASY
    to see how a post is connected to others
    “[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.
  • The environment made it EASY
    to make within-thread and cross-thread connections
    “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.”
  • Thank You!
    Contact Information:
    Gao, F. (2011). Designing a discussion environment to encourage connected and sustained online discussion. Journal of Educational Multimedia and Hypermedia. 20, (1), 43-59.