Last night Cathy Sherratt and Graham Rogers presented us with some facinating research on online discussion. It will be certainly worth catching them at a conference this year, perhaps if they present SOLSTICE or at Lancaster, because online discussion is something that we use in so many courses. By the time they next present, I think they will have taken their research and findings further.
They have studied the posts in several different groups from the same course, and found unexplained variations with student interaction with online discussions. The presentation was a search for reasons why.
Very basically the groups who posted fewest messages and interacted in a very simplistic way, were posting statements of their own belief, often addressed to the tutor. The group posting most messages tended to engage with each other, posting shorter messages, asking questions, and developing ideas together.
While there are many avenues to go down to further this research, I think one thing that we as the Learning Technology team need to do is to look at the need to give students training in discussing online. Graham Rogers pointed out that discussion, whether online or face-to-face is a complex skill, and I suppose that it is not something that we can necessarily expect students to have developed.
So is 'Being Involved in Discussions' training, something that we can develop online guides and training for? Or should learning those skills be more integrated in the students' courses?