To gain student perspectives on the guidelines, an anonymous survey was taken at the end of the semester to find out whether (and how) the guidelines had been useful to their learning experience through interactions with others. It also probed how the strategies had equipped them with online discussion skills through explicit focus on making meaning visible in their language choices to foster effective online discussions.
The survey is small-scale to date, but provides rich insight into the effectiveness of implementing the Guide in different higher education contexts during the FOLD project.
The majority of students found the guidelines were helpful to them when participating in online discussion. 90 per cent of students rated the guidelines as very helpful - quite helpful – somewhat helpful.
Some of the student comments include (note: # indicates survey respondent number):
Clear concise information which meant the instructions were easy to understand and follow. As a first time user I considered this extremely important. (#38)
The extended guides gave an overview of the expectations surrounding interactions within the forum - they provided a foundation for which learning could occur (#3)
They provided guidance on what was expected as opposed to simply making us guess as to how we should structure our posts. (#4)
Instructions for protocol was explicit: in the way we were to interact with each other, with the word count, and with the amount of responses needed (#17)
Guidelines have provided the research outline and addressed the milestones of research stages. They have established communication protocol. It was very helpful that guidelines were mentioned in face to face mode during lectures and tutorials. (#47)
The communicative strategies were considered useful for 90% of students, as it helped some ‘to converse rather than post’ (#36) as well as providing ‘a good basis for structuring responses’ particularly if voicing disagreement with a previous forum post (#4). Other comments include:
The … communicative strategies made engagement in the online forums less daunting as it gave me guidelines for my approach. (#10)
Communicative strategies were set up in a positive manner which established constructive feedback. (#47)
Always looking at the guidelines and it became easier to understand what I was suppose to be doing (#28)
They were helpful in that they encouraged me to reflect on the purpose of my responses. (#10)
When providing constructive criticism - the guides enabled me to do this in a non-threatening manner via the techniques provided (#3)
Most of the students (92%) indicated that they would feel a degree of confidence in applying the communicative skills to other contexts, with 38% feeling very confident and 23% feeling quite confident:
The communicative skills and strategies incorporated into this course are easily transferrable to other subjects and will be of great benefit when participating in future asynchronous online discussions (#1)
It was only in reflection through my essay that I realised the value of challenging ideas and putting forward other viewpoints. I didn't practice this strategy in any of my interactions so I'm still nervous about using this approach, but one of my peers challenged my thinking in one forum and I believe that it was in this way that I experienced the most growth and understanding (#10)
As a means to learning course content, participating in discussion forums was considered helpful by 79% of students. Some felt it didn't make much difference for them.
I learned a lot through this discussion group and got easier to do. I ended up really enjoying doing the discussion group (#28)
The online forums developed my learning through interaction with others - something I miss out on being a distance student (#3)
I would have absorbed nowhere near as much without the opportunity to consolidate my understanding through cooperative dialogue with my peers. (#10)
It allowed me to broaden my knowledge from multiple perspectives. (#47)
The discussion forums encouraged me to think deeply about my understandings, clarifying them in my own mind before sharing them with others. Further to this, responding to other students' posts gave the opportunity to question and re-shape my initial understandings; thus enhancing my overall cognitive engagement with the subject. (#1)
The majority students (79%) felt that that others’ responses were helpful in helping them better understand the course content. Some felt it didn’t make a lot of difference to their learning.
Reading other students' responses was in some cases affirming, and in other cases confronting. Either way, the responses led to further development of my understandings in relation to course content. (#1)
I could come to reflect upon my own views and the views and responses of others (#35)
Sometimes the comments were helpful, however, I found that often students weren’t ready to debate or disagree with others. Many students only comment on the posts of those who they already agree with (#21)
The inter-cultural understandings that were shared were very insightful. (#24)
Without the interaction between peers and coordinator, some of the concepts in this subject would have been quite difficult to comprehend (#3)
Some topics that I felt that I didn't know about or an area that I'm unsure about made me a bit hesitant to respond to, but after reading some of the other students posts I gained a better understanding and felt more confident to respond to the questions (#27)
The vast majority of students were satisfied with the lecturer’s participation in the forums with some insightful comments:
I liked that our lecturer did not become too involved in the forums, preferring instead to leave their comments until the end of the forum. Otherwise they could have become too much of an authoritative voice which may have deterred us from taking risks with our contributions … sometimes if a lecturer is too engaged you feel like you have to structure your post around what you think they want you to say. (#4)
The lecturer’s contribution was vital. I found that it reinforced or clarified the discussions. More importantly a few responses confused me and the lecturer was careful to point out any misunderstandings of the theory. I found that I kept logging back in to check for her contribution as I valued it as part of my learning. (#38)
I feel there was an excellent balance of lecturer participation in the online forums. Predominantly the forums were student led (based on the provided facilitative prompts/scenarios), with occasional input from the lecturer to scaffold and shape our learning (mainly through strategic questioning) (#1)
I liked that she didn't dictate the direction or nature of the discussion but came in later on to clarify the key points. (#37)
Feeling a sense of belonging was regarded as important by the vast majority of students, while 10 per cent felt, for them, this wasn’t something that mattered.
Absolutely helped when I got a response. I was surprised at how disappointed I felt when I didn't get a response. Feeling connected was extremely motivating. (#38)
Having people respond to your posts makes you feel included and part of the group which is particularly important for off-campus and online learners. (#4)
My experiences in studying education is that it cannot be in isolation … as there are too many different perspectives and debating all these different ideas and approaches is so important in developing your own identify, purpose and goals as an educator. (#37)
Participation was assisted by the fact that I was part of a relatively small learning group. This meant that there was opportunity to read almost all participants' postings and it created a sense of community (making me feel that we really 'knew' each other, despite having never met). This definitely assisted participation. (#1)
It was nice in that it instantly connected you to others in the subject, but it wasn't very useful as research subjects were diverse (#50)
Learning group never really formed, though I note and appreciate the benefits of being in one. Have been part of ones in the past, more I felt I belonged, more I felt comfortable, more I participated. (#59)
Most of the students indicated they enjoyed participating in the discussions to varying degrees (always – often – sometimes) while around 13% did not enjoy it.
I enjoyed participating in the discussions because the scenarios were related to real-life contexts and were therefore relevant, and through this participation I could feel my understanding of course content developing through my engagement with self-questioning and creative thinking (#1)
Participation in discussions made me new friends and gave me more knowledge. I got to know about different people's views also. (#35)
Definitely feeling connected through shared experiences. Learning through discussing similar experiences … [and] finding someone that shared your philosophy made the discussions particularly enjoyable (#38)
It was nice to meet more people and consider more perspectives, particularly from those in different educational sectors or contexts. (#37)
Bouncing ideas off others, gathering other points of view and in-turn enhancing my own practices. (#12)
At first I was a bit nervous I am not on any social media and try and keep my private life private. But as I was completing them I quite enjoyed doing it and was always looking to see if anyone had posted. I did often think of other things to post after I posted but never posted them. I think next time I would post further thoughts even though I had already posted. (#28)
Varying levels of communicative competency within a learning group will mean that there are varying needs for the scaffolding provided by the forum guides.
[the communicative strategies] were more important in initial posts. Once I was engaged in a "conversation" then I simply followed the strategies used by the others involved. As a result I found that it depended on who I was communicating with. Some students used the strategies, this influenced my response (I followed suit) while others didn't. I then found that I was less likely to use them. (#38)
After the first time the instructions for each other response were similar enough that I didn't really need help to construct a response (#39)
Some more advice and suggestions:
Limiting the word limit is good. Because it makes me limit my response. I may not say everything that I want to say, but I say your main points, and I am also more likely to read all the other posts, because they don't drag on. (#6)
It was certainly much more productive than other forums that I have been involved in during my studies. I did notice that less strands each with more posts did increase discussion and interaction. So maybe: comment on two people’s strands and start one if you wish instead of 'start a strand and comment on someone else’ might result in more discussion. (#36)
Sometimes I worried about whether my comments were good enough for the discussion. It seems more important when they're printed than if you just made a comment verbally in a tutorial. (#31)
Sometimes I felt inferiority because the other participants posted quite a long passage. (#26) (NESB student)
Next time I would be more vigilant about checking back for responses because when looking through the forums while writing my reflection I realised there were a few really valuable responses that I had missed initially but that contributed greatly to my understanding of the subject. (#10)
I think overall it is a valuable learning tool. However, I think the questions would be better if they encouraged debate and people were encouraged to politely disagree with each other. I feel like most tutors could participate more and add their own opinions to the mix ... I also felt that the method of everybody starting their own thread to post a reply to a weekly question, resulted in relatively small discussions. Sometimes I think everyone replying on the same thread would have been preferable (#21)
I’d rather do the discussion group than the blogs, I feel at least with the discussion groups you see everyone’s posts, unlike the blogs you have to actually go onto the blog and I feel it's more about making the blog pretty than the information going in them (#28)
In some Forums, some students were late to participate which may related to their lack of motivation or lack of knowledge about the Forum when they were in the first session at uni especially for those who come from different backgrounds, so more explanation at the beginning of the session will be good. (#13)
Articulates a set of principles for fostering online discussion in higher education, based on theory, the literature and evidence from postgraduate and undergraduate flexibly delivered courses.Learn More
Here we present students’ perspectives on their experience of online discussion, in which the teacher used the Guide.
These vignettes capture the essence of how the FOLD strategies have influenced lecturers’ experiences of facilitating online discussion.
The resources in this section are the literature used to inform the Guide as well as presentations made by the Project Team. These will be added to as we continue to disseminate.Learn More