Instructional Efficiency in Asynchronous Online Discussions

Concurrent Session 4

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

This session will present the preliminary results evaluating instructional efficiency in asynchronous discussions of introductory undergraduate STEM courses. It will include discussing future planned research aimed at reducing extraneous cognitive load and bolstering social, cognitive, and teaching presence. The session will conclude with lessons learned during data collection. 

Extended Abstract

Online course offerings have been increasing in higher education. A key concern with these offerings is how to reduce their large withdrawal rates. Community of inquiry presences and cognitive load have been linked to persistence and performance and thus may provide an avenue to reduce withdrawal rates. Understanding these factors in an online course can allow researchers and educators to explore the influence of interventions that address issues such as performance, persistence, or equity. 


Instructional efficiency (a measure of the effects of different instructional conditions on student learning) can be applied to asynchronous online discussions by using cognitive load as mental effort and cognitive presence for performance. Cognitive load can be measured by the NASA-TLX instrument (with its application to asynchronous discussions validated in an under-review study). Cognitive presence can be measured using validated coding criteria in the literature. This direct measure of performance removes the potential influence of variation in instructor grading. 


The researchers will share their planned interventions aimed to reduce extraneous cognitive load and promote community of inquiry presences (student cognitive and social presence and instructor social and teaching presence) in asynchronous discussions. The two interventions to be implemented in two introductory undergraduate STEM Courses are: 1) a targeted redesign of discussions (prompts, instructions, and rubrics) by subject matter experts with professional development in both cognitive load and community of inquiry best practices and 2) instructor cohort professional development in reducing extraneous load in discussions while both promoting strong student social and cognitive presence and displaying strong social and teaching presence. 


Session attendees will be engaged during the presentation by the use of Mentimeter and their smartphones, allowing synchronous engagement whether presenting online or in person. The engagement will occur at several points. Examples include attendees practicing using the coding scheme and voting on course aspects (e.g. rubric categories, instructions, etc.) that have lower extraneous load.  


The objectives for this session are: 

  • Attendees will be able to describe community of inquiry presences and extraneous cognitive load relevant to asynchronous discussions.

  • Attendees will be able to explain how instructional efficiency data is collected, including transcript coding. 

  • Attendees will be able to appraise the value of measuring instructional efficiency in asynchronous online learning environments.