Supporting Discussion Boards – Some Literature

The following is an annotated bibliography for the Reflection on Learning post for the module Supporting Virtual Communities. Links to references are available at:

  • DeVries, J. and Lim, G. (2003) Significance of Online Teaching vs. Face-to-Face: Similarities and Difference, E-LEARN 2003, Phoenix, Arizona, USA, November 7-11, 2003. [PDF at]

This conference paper compares face-to-face teaching with online teaching and notes many similarities. Some strategies for encouraging learner-learner interactions, which the authors discuss as a very important interaction in online learning, are outlined – including pairing/grouping new learners to seed discussions and build on these to generate discussions to the group. The role of the instructor is to provide guidelines and guidance, and weave the discussions to keep them focussed. While the paper lacks an element of criticality, it is a useful guide and “call to arms” reassuring lecturers new to an online environment that they already have a lot of skills in their repository to approach online teaching.

  • Dietz-Uhler, B. and Bishop-Clarke, C. (2001) The use of computer-mediated communication to enhance subsequent face-to-face discussions, Computers in Human Behavior, 17, 269–283.

This paper explores the value of online discussion and/or chat prior to an in-class activity by using a quantitative experimental study, where some of the class do not interact online prior to a discussion, and others do. The work is in the context of social psychology, and the impacts of this on the nature of social communication – for example, that individuals communicating online feel less inhibited. Students were required to read a short article. Two groups communicated online (one chat, one discussion board) and one did not communicate prior to the class discussion. While no difference between the two online groups were observed, when these groups entered the face-to-face component of the activity, they felt more confident, got more enjoyment and were able to discuss several different perspectives when compared to the group who only discussed the article face-to-face. The authors argue that this method could be useful for improving in-class discussions.

  • Mandernach, B. J., Dailey-Hebert, A. and Donnelli-Sallee, E. (2007) Frequency and Time Investment of Instructors’ Participation in Threaded Discussions in the Online Classroom, Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 6, 1 – 9.

This paper aims to determine the time involvement in facilitating an online module (rather than developing). Courses from a wide range of disciplines were studied.  They foud that instructors logged in on average 5.46 days a week, consisting of an total online time of 3.12 hours in the weekly period. The authors argue that while this is less than the equivalent the instructors would be spending in class, these interactions are over and above the learning students are engaging with through the online materials. In addition, while the weekly interaction (5.46 days) appears to correlate with a “face-to-face week”, the tracking noted that instructors logged in over the seven days, resulting in a significant shift in workload for instructors. The paper therefore provides some useful data to the debate about equivalence of face-to-face and online teaching.

  • Pena-Shaff, J. B. and Nicholls, C. (2004) Analyzing student interactions and meaning construction in computer bulletin board discussions, Computers and Education, 42, 243 – 265.

This paper provides an analysis of knowledge construction of student posts in an online module, in the context of the alignment of computer conferencing with social constructivist theory. The results show interesting finding on the timing and contributions of posts, including a higher proportion of posts at the beginning of the module, and replies to posts after a week tended to get no subsequent reply. Knowledge construction for students involved clarification, and elaboration, with students tending to post “reflective” rather than “dialogical” posts. The work provides some interesting things to consider in scaffolding critical discussions – structured activities are recommended to encourage dialogical as well as reflective postings, along with clear objectives for the discussion based activities.

  • Rourke, L. and Kanuka, H. (2007) Barriers to online critical discourse, Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning, 2, 105–126.

This paper examines the level of critical discourse observed between students in a fully online graduate humanities course. It includes a useful literature review on the scope and rationale for encouraging online discussion. In line with previous work, they found that there was little evidence of critical discussion observed on the discussion boards. This was attributed to three reasons.

The first was that the students had “competing orientations” towards contributions to the discussion boards. Only one of the five students interviewed incorporated any level of criticality – evidenced by referring to others posts, to literature, presenting an argument based on these, etc. Second, critiques of others’ posts were interpreted as attacks by the students concerned. Thirdly, the time limitations of the students mitigated against making contributions that they would have otherwise made. In addition, some participants felt reluctant to post a critique of others comments where they felt the other had more time to read prescribed texts.

The paper notes that the students found positive outcomes from contributing in discussion boards, even though their contributions were not critical in nature. These included clarifying thoughts on writing, relieved isolation and stayed on schedule with tasks. However, the authors point to work that demonstrates that a higher level of critical discourse is observed when students are given highly structured activities.

This essay prompts the consideration of the purpose of online interaction, giving several ideas for consideration – the intent for the group interactions, the target audience, the type of interactions, the time frame and the guidelines and governance. She argues that these are some considerations that should be developed prior to delivery of an online module and consequently matched with the tools (discussion board, chat room, etc). I would have added here for a learning perspective, that the assessment and activities would also be matched in with the purpose of the discussion boards.

Photo Credit

Mandernach, B. J., Dailey-Hebert, A. and Donnelli-Sallee, E. (2007) Frequency and Time Investment of Instructors’ Participation in Threaded Discussions in the Online Classroom, Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 6, 1 – 9.

2 thoughts on “Supporting Discussion Boards – Some Literature

  1. A nice recent review and case-study on the topic of critical discussion boards is: “Critical Thinking in Discussion: Online versus face-to-face”, L. Shedletsky in “Cases on Collaboration in Virtual Learning Environments: Processes and Interactions”, D. Russell, Ed., IGI Global:Herschey, 2010.

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