Good learning and teaching practices require us to be reflective and review and evaluate our learning and teaching activities on a regular basis. With respect to online discussion boards it is important to gain perspectives from both students and staff to ensure that online discussions are providing the richest learning experience possible in the context of your unit.
A number of studies have looked at effective review and evaluation of online discussion boards as part of online learning (Kay 2006; Lee 2013; Rovai and Barnum 2007; Tallent-Runnels et al. 2006; Vonderwell 2003). Familiarising yourself with relevant literature (eg Kent et al. 2016; Loncar et al 2014) and embedding this into a reflective review of your unit will enable you to develop and implement rigorous learning experiences in your unit online discussion boards.
Learning analytics are a useful tool to determine student engagement in online discussion boards in your unit. Resources such as Quality Matters provide a rigorous set of standards which can be utilised effectively to review the design of your online discussion boards (Martin et al. 2016). The University of Tasmania MyLO platform (and other learning management systems) can also be used to evaluate your online discussion boards as you can determine class engagement in different discussion forums and individual student participation with respect to reading and posting to online discussion boards. This can be rich data to enable you to determine which discussion forums are most effective in your unit .
The University of Tasmania online student evaluation system (eVALUate) enables you to ask students specific questions related to the use of online discussion boards in each delivery of your unit. This can be useful data to determine the validity of the discussion boards to meet your intended unit learning outcomes. You can also consider conducting your own informal survey of students using an online survey tool within MyLO or an external survey tool like Survey Monkey or Lime to ask students questions such as:
- What kind of activities they would like to engage in in online discussion boards?
- What encourages or discourages them to use online discussion boards?
- How do they think discussion boards should be assessed?
- Do they like online discussion boards to be facilitated or not?
- Do they think that the use of online discussion boards as an assessment tool engages or disengages their online learning?
There are examples of surveys which you can use to form your own questions relevant to the student feedback you require (eg. Steen and Sparrow n.d.). These survey results may then be considered as part of your formal unit review to improve online activities to motivate & engage your students.
Peer review of teaching is also important in ensuring that you are providing the best online discussion forums possible in your unit and this is encouraged as part of the quality assurance cycle (University of Tasmania 2015). Engage staff within your discipline and outside of your discipline to peer review your discussion boards and provide you with constructive feedback. This, along with student feedback, will be useful to enable you to review and improve the delivery of your unit in the online environment.
- Kay, R.H., 2006. Developing a comprehensive metric for assessing discussion board effectiveness. British Journal of Educational Technology, 37 (5), pp.761-783.
- Kent, C., Laslo, E. and Rafaeli, S., 2016. Interactivity in online discussions and learning outcomes. Computers & Education, 97 , pp.116-128.
- Lee, S.W.Y., 2013. Investigating students' learning approaches, perceptions of online discussions, and students' online and academic performance. Computers & Education, 68 , pp.345-352.
- Loncar, M., Barrett, N.E. and Liu, G.Z., 2014. Towards the refinement of forum and asynchronous online discussion in educational contexts worldwide: Trends and investigative approaches within a dominant research paradigm. Computers & Education, 73 , pp.93-110.
- Martin, F., Ndoye, A. and Wilkins, P., 2016. Using Learning Analytics to Enhance Student Learning in Online Courses Based on Quality Matters Standards. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 45 (2), pp.165-187.
- Rovai, A.P. and Barnum, K.T., 2007. On-line course effectiveness: An analysis of student interactions and perceptions of learning. International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education, 18 (1), pp.57-73.
- Steen, T. and Sparrow, S., n.d. University of South Australia, viewed 29 May 2015 http://w3.unisa.edu.au/teachinglearning/goodteaching/grants/projects/documents/online-discussion-forum.pdf
- Tallent-Runnels, M.K., Thomas, J.A., Lan, W.Y., Cooper, S., Ahern, T.C., Shaw, S.M. and Liu, X., 2006. Teaching courses online: A review of the research. Review of educational research, 76 (1), pp.93-135.
- University of Tasmania, 2015. Strategy for Institutional-level Peer Review , University of Tasmania, viewed 6 September 2017, http://www.teaching-learning.University of Tasmania.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/764178/Strategy-for-Institutional-level-Peer-Review.pdf
- Vonderwell, S., 2003. An examination of asynchronous communication experiences and perspectives of students in an online course: A case study. The Internet and higher education, 6 (1), pp.77-90.