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Enhancing student learning outcomes in asynchronous online discussion

Klisc, Chris (2015) Enhancing student learning outcomes in asynchronous online discussion. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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When the asynchronous online discussion (AOD) environment was first introduced there was much enthusiasm about the potential of this new discussion space for enhancing student learning. However, after over two decades of AOD use, there is still concern about the realisation of the anticipated benefits, especially those associated with high order thinking skills such as critical thinking.

Research aimed at findings ways to enhance student learning outcomes in AOD has examined many different factors and conditions. Though there has been consistency in the findings of the research within many areas, at the same time there are still unresolved issues relating to the use of assessment, the type of instructor support and how an AOD should be designed and implemented. The aim of the research described in the thesis was to investigate how student learning outcomes may be enhanced in AOD, by investigating the conditions conducive to quality discussion and factors facilitating student learning.

The research objective was addressed through two studies. The research in Study 1 investigated instructor perspectives of factors influencing the levels of success achieved in student thinking skills, collaborative learning and communication skills. The results of Study 1 showed that higher levels of achievement could be achieved by the use of assessment, with assessment of the AOD contributions being the most common approach. The use of a post-AOD assessment was relatively uncommon among instructors. AOD outcomes were also significantly affected by the information provided to students prior to the commencement of the discussion.

The research in Study 2 investigated student perspectives using a quasi-experiment with participants from a first year university information technology course. The study was developed based on the inconclusive results of Study 1 regarding the use of a post-AOD assessment, and investigated how different forms of assessment can be used to facilitate students’ critical thinking skills. This study also examined student awareness of critical thinking skills and concepts.

The findings of Study 2 showed that students perceived significant improvements in their levels of critical thinking after completing an AOD with assessment, regardless of the type of assessment. However there were no significant differences in either perceptions of critical thinking skills or critical thinking skills as measured by an objective test. This suggests, that the form of assessment used in an AOD is less important than the fact that assessment is included. The findings of Study 2 also showed that students consider critical thinking important, are interested in developing their critical thinking skills, but are unsure of how to improve their thinking in general.

The results of the research described in this thesis have practical implications in the use of AOD in undergraduate education and suggest areas for further research. Firstly the results stress the importance of information given to students at the commencement of the discussion, particularly information about the purpose of the discussion. Secondly they highlight the need for further research regarding the use of a post-AOD assessment. And finally, the results presented in this thesis provide insight into student perceptions of their own critical thinking and issues related to the learning of critical thinking.

Publication Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Engineering and Information Technology
Supervisor: Hobbs, Val and McGill, Tanya
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