Enhancing the Quality of Discussions in Undergraduate Online Courses
18 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 12 Aug 2011
Date Written: 2011
An established pedagogical literature suggests that student-student interaction in discussion settings promotes cognitive engagement, student satisfaction, and positive learning outcomes - and may enhance critical thinking skills. Furthermore, a growing body of research indicates that these positive processes and outcomes can be effectively recreated in the online environment. Yet we also know that the effectiveness of online discussions can be conditioned - even compromised - by such factors as group size, gender composition, and differences in the prior academic achievement of participants. In this study, we offer a preliminary look at the efficacy of a conditioning intervention: The role of student preceptors in promoting student interaction and elevating discussion quality. Using data from 26 discussion groups and 3 substantive discussions, we measure quantitative indicators of discussion activity under two quasi-experimental conditions: preceptor-as-student and preceptor-as-GTA. In the control condition, no student preceptor was present. In terms of quantitative indicators of discussion activity, we find no emergent differences between the preceptor intervention and the control.
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