Examining first year students’ discussion forum participation: Does SES matter?

Year: 2016

Author: Dargusch, Joanne, Harris, Lois

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

As universities move increasingly towards online learning environments, online teaching tools are frequently used to support diverse students in their learning. Discussion forums are a common feature of online and blended course design which enable students to interact with peers and teachers about course issues and content, and provide opportunities for giving and receiving feedback. However, existing research indicates that students may be reluctant to participate in online discussion forums for a range of reasons (Deng & Tavares, 2013). It remains unclear if students who belong to equity groups (e.g., low SES, non-English speaking background, Indigenous, regional/remote) may be more or less likely to engage with this important tool and why. This study examined how low SES students utilised this common online tool and understood their role in its use. The study involved two first-year courses from different faculties (Nursing and Business and Law) in a regional university. All nursing students studied by online, distance mode (n=156), while the Business and Law course students studied in both distance (n=164) and face-to-face (n=200) modes. Approximately 1/3 of enrolled students in both courses were identified as low-SES.Each course was considered a unique case (Yin, 2009), with the data set including 92 surveys, 259 forum threads and over 700 responses, demographic data, and clickstream forum use data. Content analysis (Silverman, 2006) was used to identify the types of interactions and responses on the forum.In both cases, survey data revealed that students across all SES groups valued discussion forums, but that they sometimes found other students’ posts confusing or repetitive. Low SES students used the discussion forums to find information and seek clarification, posting higher percentages of student-led threads than other SES groups. However, they did not post responses to others’ threads with the same frequency and primarily commented, rather than providing answers. These findings demonstrate that more consideration must be given to the ways diverse students position themselves in the construction of knowledge, so that low SES students see themselves as capable of providing useful feedback to peers. Deng, L., & Tavares, N. J. (2013). From Moodle to Faceb ook: Exploring students’ motivation and experiences in online communities. Computers & Education, 68, 167-176. Silverman, D. (2006). Interpreting qualitative data (3rd ed.). London: Sage. Yin, R. K. (2009). Case study research: Design and methods (4th ed.). Los Angeles: Sage Publications.