Sunday, January 25, 2009

Online Discussion Approach for Concept-Dense Courses

I ran across a study about the relationship between course exam grades and online discussion structure and participation (Young, 2008). “Discussions were structured to incorporate learning principles associated with storing information in long term memory through control processes of meaningful learning, elaboration, and rehearsal in the form of distributed practice. Results indicate that grades on discussions correlate with exam grades and students who fully engage in the discussion activities have higher test grades than students who do not fully engage in discussion activities.” (p. 217)

In addition to examining an important question, this study describes a useful approach for using online discussion, especially in concept-dense courses--that is, many concepts covered in a short time frame. “Each weekly discussion question consisted of a query about a concept or several concepts where students had to demonstrate understanding and elaborate on the concept by explaining the concept in their own words. Typically the second part of the question required the students to apply the concept to an experience in their lives and to their future professional careers, thus creating opportunity for meaningful learning and additional elaboration. Once students answered the question, they were permitted to read their classmates’ response to the question and then they were required to respond in a substantive manner to four of their classmates’ posts. The response to classmates required students to engage in distributed practice by reviewing others’ responses and to elaborate by expanding on what their classmates said. Discussions occurred weekly throughout the semester, therefore, encouraging students to engage in additional distributed practice before each exam.” (p. 219)

“For each discussion the instructor responded to each of the students’ initial posts with feedback regarding the accuracy of the content within the post. After the initial post was made, the instructor read the students’ responses to classmates but did not regularly participate in this part of the discussion. However, if students made inaccurate statements and classmates did not correct one another, the instructor did step in to clarify. The instructor also responded when students directly asked the instructor for information or a comment. Discussions were graded according to a ten-point grading rubric.” (p. 220)

If you think this approach to online discussion might be useful for your classes, please contact us ( or your TLT Liaison for assistance. Also, our ANGEL Learning system has the technical capability to require a student to post to a discussion forum before being able to read other student responses, which is an important requirement for this discussion technique.

Young, A. (2008). Structuring asynchronous discussions to incorporate learning principles in an online class: One professor's course analysis. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 4(2), 217-225. Available at

Posted at 09:22AM Jan 25, 2009 by dantonacci

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