Asynchronous Discussion in Support of Medical Education
Although the potential of asynchronous discussion to support learning is widely recognized, student engagement remains problematic. Often, for example, students simply refuse to participate. Consequently the rich promise of asynchronous learning networks for supporting students’ learning can prove hard to achieve.
After reviewing strategies for encouraging student participation in discussions in Asynchronous Learning Networks (ALN), we present a study that investigates how these strategies influenced students’ perceptions and use of the discussion area. We identify and explore factors that encouraged and inhibited student participation in asynchronous discussion, and evaluate student postings to an asynchronous discussion group by content analysis.
The results question received wisdom about some of the pedagogic techniques advocated in the literature. Instead, results support the view that the major factors for stimulating student participation in asynchronous discussion are tutor enthusiasm and expertise. It appears that the tutor may be the root cause of engagement in discussions, an important conclusion, given that to date, the tutor’s role has remained relatively unexamined. We also note that participation in asynchronous discussion is inhibited when students allocate a low priority to participation, as may occur when participation is not assessed.
Content analysis of an asynchronous discussion in this study reveals that contributions were not strongly interactive and that students were simply ‘playing the game’ of assessment, making postings that earned marks but rarely contributing otherwise. Thus the use of assessment to encourage students’ contributions appears to be only a superficial success; it seems likely that giving credit for postings changes behavior without necessarily improving learning. This finding has significant implications for curriculum design.