Large or Small Online Discussion Groups: Which are Better?
Concurrent Session 9
The number of participants in an online discussion group can be intimidating for some learners. But are smaller groups beneficial to this learning environment?
Goal: The goal of this presentation is to have a discussion about where or not small groups discussions are beneficial to an online class.
Research Problem: This study sought to determine whether small group collaboration vs. whole class collaboration would affect the quantity of substantive posts in online doctoral courses. Based on a review of the literature, this study specifically examined the outcomes related to minimizing the number of posts that a student would navigate. Although students were required to post a response to the initial query, the researchers hoped that having multiple small groups instead of one larger group would result in more than just an initial response and lead to multiple substantive posts related to the original topic.
Quantitative: Is there a relationship between the number of substantive discussion postings of learners in a small group (3 - 4 students) forum and learners in a large group forum.
H∫ There is no relationship between the number of substantive discussion postings of learners in a small group (3 - 4 students) forum and learners in a large group forum.
Hπ There is a relationship between the number of substantive discussion postings of learners in a small group (3 - 4 students) forum and learners in a large group forum.
Qualitative: How do doctoral students perceive small group forums (3 - 4 students) as advantageous?
How do doctoral students perceive small group forums (3 - 4 students) as disadvantageous?
Methodology: This was a mixed methodology study. The participants in this study were 196 doctoral candidates enrolled in 16 specialty classes for their degree. The courses are solely online. The class size ranged from a minimum of 7 students per class to a maximum of 19. Prior to the study, the students were given an introductory letter about the study and were asked to volunteer to participate. Out of the total population, 82 students volunteered to take part in the study (N = 82). The small group forum sizes varied in each class from the smallest being one group of 3 students to the largest of 4 groups of 3 students in one class. At the end of each class, students in the small group forum were asked to share what they liked and did not like about their group experience.
Qualitative: Several themes came out of this study. The positive themes that the small group forum participants suggested were that they felt that they built relationships and became more personable with the members of their group. They also stated that they could respond to all members of their group and that they learned more because they could read and respond to every posting. The negative themes that the small group forum participants suggested were that they felt that they could not post in a timely fashion due to conflicts in others schedules or other participants not posting in a timely fashion.
Quantitative: Data were collected from all the modules and were compared using the one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) Dunnett Procedure to determine if there was a statistical significance (p-value <.05) of the response rates between the small and large groups. The reason for using this particular type of ANOVA was that the Dunnett Procedure is restricted to comparing the experimental groups (in this case, the small groups) against a single control group (i.e., the large group). This particular test does not compare the small groups against each other. The results of the test demonstrate that there is, statistically speaking, a significant difference (p = < .0001) suggesting that when doctoral students are placed in small discussion groups of three to four people their likelihood of responding more frequently to discussion questions increases which supports the alternative hypothesis. These results support Cheung and Hu's (2010) research who suggested that a large group discussion group minimizes student participation.