Large Discussion Groups’ Impact on Engagement and Community

Jane Costello, Linda E. Rohr


To address the solitary nature of online learning, asynchronous micro discussion tools can be implemented to enrich students’ learning experiences by encouraging interaction among students, nurturing social presence, and facilitating community development. Students’ experiences using an asynchronous micro discussion tool in online learning were investigated, with a focus on engagement in learning with peers, sense of community, and technology’s effectiveness. Survey data was analyzed from two sections of an online introductory course from 458 postsecondary university students. As part of the course evaluation, students were asked to participate in three, intentionally designed discussions using an asynchronous micro discussion tool. In each instance, the discussion topic was tightly linked to course content, promoting collaborative, reflective learning. Results indicated that while students felt that learning through asynchronous micro discussions was effective, they did not feel a strong sense of community using this method. However, students who experienced increased engagement also reported having a better understanding of the course material, fewer technological issues, and felt a stronger peer-to-peer connection. Importantly, collaborative learning that increases engagement does not appear to be negatively influenced by large group size in higher education. Given the prevalence of the online learning environment this is valuable course design information.

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