Monday, August 5, 2013

Online Interactive Learning Forums

Dr. Arulchelvan from Anna University in India has written a paper in the Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education that analyzes online forums for positive interactivity that fosters learning. The survey was conducted on 250 students from different media courses. He studied what beneficial practices fostered online learning and furthered the educational learning needs of the students. Through this study it was found that interactivity, use of content, and student preferences had a bearing on the learning level. 

Online forums are often difficult to measure and judge. Some focus on content and some focus more on quantity of posts. Quantity of student posts can be an indication that students are interested in particular topics. They will naturally respond to those questions are of more interest to them personally. Analyzing quantity can help determine the overall interest in certain questions which should be fostered in the remaking of the courses in the future. 

Interactively helps students learn by hedging each other’s experiences and knowledge. By discussing issues openly students can learn about varying perspectives on issues and incorporate these perspectives into their understandings and alternative explanations. It also provides the student with a social feedback about the varying ways in which people see these perspectives. 

Professors often use knowledge density, message length, and message count as methods of evaluating online discussion forms. Density includes the overall quality and depth of the work that helps to ensure students understand the material. Length includes the ability to discuss concepts at length. Message count helps professors understand how active students are in the forums. 

The study found that as a learning tool 72% use online forums, 63% blogs, 51% web based training, 38% wikis, 20% podcasts, and 7% learning tools. As a primary method of learning online discussion forums appear to be common. A total of 82% believe online forums support learning while 18% disagreed. Online learning forums appear to have large support among students. 

The type of information that is included in a forum is of interest to students as well. The results show that 90% of students prefer textual explanations, 63% prefer links, 70% prefer images, 19% prefer audio and 64% prefer video. The students gravitated toward text, images, video, and links in their discussion forums. The use of such multimedia may further help engage students through interactivity. 

It is important to ensure that the content of the course is credible and this should be managed by the instructor/moderators. The key topics that create building blocks to the next level of thinking should be controlled. How students understand these things and how they come to these understandings is more open for debate. In general, students will use their personal experiences to determine the validity of the concepts. They will use the forum and its multimedia aspects in ways that encourage higher levels of information obtainment.

Arulchelvan, S. (2011). Online interaction forums as learning tool among the media students- an analysis. Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education, (12), 4.

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