Student and Faculty Engagement and Satisfaction with Redesigned Discussion Forums

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Brief Abstract

Researchers from the University of Arizona Global Campus share a recent course redesign which modified a traditional two discussion posts and replies per week into one robust discussion format each week. In this session, we will discuss this redesigned engagement method and its impact on students and faculty.


Dr. Amy Johnson is a Core Faculty member for the Associate of Arts in Early Childhood Education degree program in the College of Arts & Sciences at the University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC). She earned a Doctorate of Early Childhood Development and Education from Texas Woman’s University, a Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Chapman University, and a Bachelor of Arts in English and Creative Writing from San Diego State University. Dr. Johnson began her career teaching elementary grades in the Cajon Valley School District. She transitioned into higher education in 2010 and enjoys the diversity of University of Arizona Global Campus students. Dr. Johnson lives in the Ft. Worth, Texas, area with her husband and two daughters.
Dr. Bryan Aylward is the Senior Director of Academic Operations for the University of Arizona Global Campus. Bryan’s division encompasses the Faculty Scheduling department for the university across 50+ start dates annually, the Contracts & Payroll Compliance department, as well as the Data and Academic Systems department for the university. Bryan has almost 14 years of experience in higher education operations across numerous departments including student services, registrar, curriculum operations, as well as academic operations. In addition to this experience, Bryan has been an associate faculty member for the Forbes School of Business and Technology since 2012 with focused instruction on leadership and management courses. Bryan is an advocate of high-quality education, with experience in the online, traditional classroom, as well as hybrid classroom formats (Online and Classroom), and is well versed in the challenges that exist for both students and faculty. Bryan received his Doctorate in Psychology with a focus on Business & Organizational Leadership from the University of the Rockies in 2017.

Extended Abstract

In this session, the authors will discuss implementing a research study regarding different formats of discussion forums. In the online classroom at the University of Arizona Global Campus, one of the primary means of student engagement is through course discussion forums. These typically require students to post in two discussions per week with one initial post and two peer responses. In a recent redesign of ECE 315: Language Development in Young Children, a modified discussion structure was implemented. One of the discussions was recreated as an interactive assignment, and the second discussion was reformatted to create a more robust learning opportunity for students. The thought was to allow for more in-depth learning and engagement throughout the week. This discussion requires an initial analysis of the content, three peer responses, and a final post at the end of the learning week in which the students answer questions asked of them, summarize their learning for the week, and respond to any feedback from their instructor.

The rationale for this research project came from the two ECE 315 faculty developers who were interested in students engaging in learning through discussion forums on a deeper level than previously witnessed in prior sections of the courses. ECE 315 is a high enrollment course with a new offering almost every week for students. From June 1, 2019, through May 31, 2020, there were 50 sections offered of this course with a total enrollment of 1,009 students who took the course, with an average course size of approximately 20 students per offering. 

Our research questions include (1) In what ways has the discussion redesign impacted student performance? (2) What are student perceptions regarding the new discussion approach compared to the traditional discussion approach? (3) What are faculty perceptions regarding the new discussion approach compared to the traditional discussion approach? (4) To what extent do faculty and students prefer the new discussion approach compared to the traditional discussion approach? 

In the online classroom, the discussion forum content and design assist in teaching content. Just as on-ground teachers continually assess their teaching practices, online teachers must regularly appraise the content of their courses. Reflection is a “cyclical process, because once we start to implement changes, then the reflective and evaluative cycle begins again” (Mathew et al., 2017, p. 130). Therefore, although the initial research was completed in the fall of 2020, additional data was analyzed one year later. Researchers hoped to understand better the long-term impact of the changes made to this course. 

The research results will be presented, as well as additional data points from these course offerings, specifically related to student success and course retention rates. Participants will engage in conversations and hands-on opportunities with their peers and presenters to dive more deeply into the research findings. The presentation will conclude with opportunities for future research. 


Mathew, P., Mathew, P., & Peechattu, P. J. (2017). Reflective practices: A means to teacher development. Asia Pacific Journal of Contemporary Education and Communication Technology, 3(1), 126-131.