One of the chief facets of a successful and engaging online course experience is the use of an effective form of student interaction. The importance of student interaction stems from how this interaction positively influences the growth of knowledge. A learning community in the form of discussion boards can nurture the development of knowledge and can also act as a means of education. Students can develop a personal understanding of course objectives and discuss how this knowledge can be applied.
To accomplish a level of interaction that promotes an active and advanced learning community, an instructor may opt to incorporate threaded discussions as a means of generating or promoting interaction. For the threaded discussion to remain an integral part of the online learning experience, administrators must provide facilitators with effective assessment methods to evaluate students' performance and knowledge integration. These assessments can include, but are not always limited to, the synthesis of the course material by the student into a well conceived argument, spelling and grammar, use of textual or other academic support, response to other student postings to facilitate an open and continuous discussion, and an assessment of the effort utilised in forming the posting.
Active and focused participation, as well as overall effort, is an expectation of most online courses. Regular contributions to online discussions are central to monitoring the progress of each student. An objective assessment of what each participator brings to the discussion forum can lead the facilitator to the grading of each individual student’s commitment to the course, as well as their progress in the course. The use of threaded discussions as a mode of assessment for online courses helps to ensure each student is able to keep up with the assigned course work and also give a fair means of assessment.
By requiring consistent discussion and the deductive reasoning of course material, the students are able to generate a more conceptual understanding of the material. Threaded discussions facilitate the overall learning of the individual student by asking the student to not only formulate their observations into an argument, but to also comment on the arguments and conclusions other students have drawn. In this way, students will be able to apply what they have learned in the real world and have a deeper comprehension of the material they have studied in their online course.
The instructor is also not only an observer, but will also act as a commentator in the threaded discussions that are commonly used in online course work. The instructor can further facilitate learning by answering student questions, correcting any errors made by the students, and also helping the students in reaching the next step in the analysis of course material. By answering a probing question, the course instructor can help the student make a deeper and more meaningful conclusion, thereby enhancing their comprehension and overall learning experience.
Furthermore, the instructor does shape the overall framework of the class and therefore greatly impacts the learning that will take place. Working to word the topic question for threaded discussions to stimulate the most thoughtful responses will help to generate more learning in the online class; included in this, the responses the instructor will post to a student will also help generate further student analysis. Often, the instructor is also present in the threaded discussions to provide any redirection, as needed, and to also encourage students to explore additional content areas. The commitment of the instructor will help to frame the threaded discussions as an activity that is focused on the success of the learner.
As the course instructor utilises the tools of their choosing to assemble an online course, they must choose carefully in order to create an environment that fosters student interaction and student success. Threaded discussions are the most successful way of creating student interaction in an online course. Proper communication may seem to be the biggest challenge for distance learners; however, the use of threaded discussions will not only help students to stay on task with their course work, but also offer a forum for answering questions. This type of discussion forum promotes the advancement of the student analytical skills as well as the formulation of arguments that are supported course material. It can also be said that because of the promotion of analytical skills, there is also an improvement in overall written communication skills.
Online courses do take a certain kind of discipline from the student, but with the proper tools (such as discussion forums) the student can have an equally valuable learning experience as a student taking a land class. As long as the student can stay on task, and make thoughtful contributions to the class, a distance learner is able to experience a broad range of improvements and successes in their online learning environment.
Edelstein & Edwards, “If You Build It, They Will Come: Building Learning Communities Through Threaded Discussions,” Spring 2002, http://www.westga.edu/~distance/ojdla/spring51/edelstein51.html
Santa Monica College Online, “Student Services,” 2004, http://www.smconline.org/index.real?action=Student