Cohort-specific Online Discussion Experiences: A Collaborative, Multidisciplinary Approach to Improving Engagement and Learning
Concurrent Session 6
The purpose of this proposal is to determine if there is an opportunity to improve student engagement and learning in asynchronous online discussion boards by optimizing the number of students in each discussion. Research suggests that the optimal discussion group size ranges from approximately 4 – 12 students (Berry 2008; Schellens & Valcke, 2006), yet many of our University’s general education courses contain approximately 25 – 35 students. In addition, students and faculty have expressed an ongoing desire for more individualized interaction and instruction in the discussion boards. Our idea for solving this challenge is to implement cohort-specific online discussion experiences in our high-enrollment courses. This solution design would require the collaboration of an interdisciplinary University team, including faculty, instructional designers, assessment analysts, and learning technology specialists. We are optimistic that the successful implementation of cohort-specific online discussions would positively impact the teaching and learning experience for our students and faculty.
A major focus of Ashford University’s strategic plan is to develop, implement, and assess innovative, multidisciplinary approaches to student learning and success. In an effort to continuously improve the quality of our University’s course design and delivery, this team recently reviewed the literature (Berry, 2008; Du, Derrington, & Matthews, 2007; Levin, He, & Robins, 2006; Schellens & Valcke, 2006) on discussion forums, surveyed faculty and students, assisted in the development of a conceptual framework for online asynchronous discussions, and shared recommendations with University leadership that resulted in several specific strategies. One such recommendation was to implement a cohort-based model of discussion forums in our high-enrollment general education courses.
At Ashford, discussion forums create a substantial venue for interaction, dialogue, and the collaborative construction of knowledge in our online courses. Furthermore, it is commonly accepted among researchers and educators that asynchronous discussions can enhance online learning. During the course of our review of the literature, as well as our thorough assessment of curriculum quality, faculty teaching, and student success data, we determined that the optimal course size for increased student engagement and learning is likely approximately 4 – 12 students per discussion. While many of our upper-level undergraduate courses closely align with this recommended course size, the majority of our general education courses consist of approximately 25 – 35 students.
Fortunately, the fusion of learning technology, data analytics, and curriculum and innovation has fostered a culture of evidence-based decision-making at our University. In order to address this challenge, a multidisciplinary team of academic leaders, faculty, instructional designers, assessment analysts, and learning technology specialists collaborated to develop a potential solution. Specifically, we hope to improve student engagement and learning in discussion boards by creating cohort-specific discussion experiences in our high-enrollment general education courses. Additionally, in order to evaluate the success of this solution, we plan to employ a variety of direct and indirect measures, including learning assessment through rubrics and end-of-course surveys for students and faculty.
Berry, G. (2008). Asynchronous discussions: Best practices. In 24th Annual Conference on Distance Teaching & Learning. Madison: University of Wisconsin System. Retrieved from http://www.uwex.edu/disted/conference/Resource_library/proceedings/08_12701.pdf
Du, J., Durrington, V. A., & Matthews, J. G. (2007). Online collaborative discussion: Myth or valuable learning tool. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 3, 94 – 104.
Levin, B., He, Y., & Robbins, H. (2006). Comparative analysis of preservice teachers’ reflective thinking in synchronous versus asynchronous online case discussions. Journal of Technology and Teaching Education, 14, 439-460.
Schellens, T. & Valcke, M. (2006). Fostering knowledge construction in university students through asynchronous discussion groups. Computers and Education, 46, 349-370.