Initiating and maintaining discussion board activity

Kevin Downing and Ivan Lam
City University of Hong Kong
Hong Kong SAR, China

Instruction using the Web as a vehicle for content dissemination and student-tutor interaction has increasingly dominated debates related to online learning (Nash 2004). Much of the educational research in this area has focused on examining the importance of teacher-student and student-student interaction in the online learning process, and in particular the use of discussion boards to foster the creation of an effective learning environment (Downing and Chim 2004). While some of this research has suggested effective ways of creating such an environment (Chou 2001; Gilbert and Dabbagh 2005; Henri and Pudelko 2003), relatively few studies (Yukselturk and Top 2006) have undertaken detailed week-on-week analysis of tutor and student bulletin board activity throughout a semester, and used these data to make recommendations on how an effective online learning community can be established with appropriate use of the discussion board tools in Blackboard and Web CT.

This paper examines detailed data on the usage of an asynchronous discussion board as an interactive communication forum during a first semester associate degree course at a university in Hong Kong. The authors analyse the nature and frequency of interaction between students and their peers, and students and their tutor, over a 17-week period. The resulting quantitative and qualitative data demonstrate that student participants go through three distinct phases in online interaction, and identify the critical importance of timely and appropriate prompts embedded in the course structure. In suggesting a set of broad maxims for tutors wishing to engage their students in discussion board interaction, the authors highlight the critical role played by assessment tasks in initiating and maintaining online activity.