The Use of Asynchronous Discussion to Support Collaborative Learning in an Online Programme
This study argues that student to student conversations in groups have a significant impact on learning. Previous studies have focused on the potential impact of individual contributions in these learning conversations. This study challenges this view and suggests that measuring these individual contributions cannot, on their own, improve the student experience and impact on student performance. A case study design was used to explore what was happening in an online collaborative group task. This was achieved by examining the dialogic interactions in asynchronous online discussions being used in the group collaborative process. The dataset for this investigation was a large corpus of online posts by eight postgraduate student groups working on a group task. The data was analysed using framework analysis. Developed by Richie and Spencer (1994), framework analysis is a matrix based method which allows the researcher to demonstrate how the data was managed and allows the researcher to move back and forth between different levels of abstraction whilst still keeping sight of the “raw” data. The central component of framework analysis is the development of a thematic framework. This thesis also examined quantitative data related to the number, length and frequency of discussion posts within and across each of the groups. Overall a typology of three dialogic types were identified and ten key characteristics of these groups were also identified. This thesis found that the predictive value of monitoring the use of time was very low if this is the only indicator used. The dialogic types identified in the findings were found to be significant. Their presence or absence in the group communications had the potential to help educators predict whether the group would go on to meet the criteria for the task in the time allocated. The group characteristics also contributed to this prediction and there appeared to be a cumulative effect the more characteristics that were present. This suggests that the group conversations had a significant impact on individual and group achievement. The findings of this thesis have significant implications for how we understand student to student interactions and their impact on learning. This study has used online student group conversations. However, the findings do not only have impact for student conversations in online learning but relate to all forms of learning. Revealing the impact of these interactions to educational designers and teachers can help support students in group learning. In addition, if students understand the impact group conversations have on their learning and achievement and that of their peers, sharing this information has the potential to significantly improve their performance and learning experience. This study recommends further research be carried out into student to student dialogue to explore further how learning is impacted by group conversations. It is recommended that this exploration should focus on theory generating research to help address the theoretical gaps that exist in understanding how students learn in collaboration with each other. This should be utilised to enhance student experience, performance and achievement.
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