65 paper

Analysing online discussions: What are students learning?

Deborah Cotton, Jon Yorke
Educational Development and Learning Technologies
University of Plymouth

Online asynchronous discussions (OADs) are increasingly advocated to encourage interaction in blended learning in higher education. However, questions remain over the educational utility of OADs. In particular, relatively little is known about how students use online discussions and the ways and extent to which their use enhances learning. Previous research seeking to investigate the correlation between discussion board use and exam results has proved problematic and open to misinterpretation. Analysis of the content of online discussions may provide a more fruitful way of discovering the impact on student learning, but this approach can appear overly complex and time-consuming. This paper describes a small scale research project which pilots a number of different methods for analysing online discussions and considers the advantages and disadvantages with each approach, both in terms of methodological simplicity and utility of findings.

Keywords: web-based education, online discussion, blended learning, student learning, social presence