The design and facilitation of asynchronous discussion activities in Web-based courses: Implications for instructional design theory
Vanessa Paz Dennen, Indiana University, United States
Indiana University . Awarded
This study examines the asynchronous discussion activities of nine online courses taught by eight different instructors at seven universities. The classes represent social science, humanity and professional disciplines and ranged from survey-level undergraduate to graduate level. A naturalistic methodology was used, with data collected through interviews, surveys, documents, and virtual observations.
Each course was analyzed separately, resulting in site-specific findings. These findings focused on how the course design and facilitation affected the resulting student participation, all within the particular course context. Some courses were totally centered around the use of the forum, and generated high participation levels, while others used asynchronous discussion as a single activity within a course.
A cross-course analysis was conducted, with findings highlighting commonalities and differences that were due to course design and facilitation factors. The relevance of discussion activities to other course activities, the presence of a clear need or goal for discussion, and the use of grading and feedback all were found to have a positive relationship to student participation. The use of discussion prompts that allow students to share unique cases, answers, or perspectives was found to increase participation and have a positive effect on the learning process. Both qualitative and quantitative guidelines and feedback, when present, provided students with expectations and kept them informed of their progress within the asynchronous discussion; in their absence, many students felt lost or declined to participate. Consistently supplied feedback and consistently disseminated administrative information also helped promote participation, while instructor modeling was found to help students know how to participate. Deadlines were found to be both a participation motivator and, in instances where there was only one final deadline, a dialogue inhibitor. Finally, the amount and type of instructor involvement affected the amount and type of student participation. Instructors with minimal or no course presence did not generate high levels of student participation. Among instructors who did have a clear presence, those who maintained roles and contributed to the discussion as participants more than as authoritative instructors were found to generate greater peer dialogue patterns.
Dennen, V.P. The design and facilitation of asynchronous discussion activities in Web-based courses: Implications for instructional design theory. Ph.D. thesis, Indiana University.
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