Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Quantifying e-Learning with relevant parameters

The advantages of using technology to create a shared learning environment in the field of e-learning have been presented in a few posts in this blog. Adopting technology for learning through the use of online discussion forums, which as reported has beneficial impact on the teaching and learning process, has also been discussed in a previous post. But, quantification or evaluation of such a process has not been presented and that will be the premise of this post.

Online discussion forum is a form of learning through networking which provide opportunities for students to seek, obtain, and share information. Therefore, students’ participation and interaction in the forum can provide some insight into how they learn about a course in a virtual environment. In addition, it is also essential to consider how online discussion forums may promote knowledge constructions in students.We make use of a study involved in a research paper that examines preliminary data of an online discussion forum in a course at Masters level (MA) in order to investigate if there is evidence of shared construction of knowledge among students through collaborative learning behaviours.

The paper presents two models, namely the Interaction Analysis Model and Collaborative Behavior which are used to examine the online discourses. The Interaction Analysis Model examines constructivist knowledge creation phases, while categories of Collaborative Behaviour display collaborative learning situations.

The various sub-categories of these two models and their description are as follows:
IAS Model:
Sub Categories
Sharing/comparing of information
(A), statement of observation or opinion, (B)
corroborating examples provided by one or more participants, (C) statement of agreement from one or more other participants, (D) asking and answering questions, to clarify details of statements (E) definition, description, or identification of a problem.
Discovery, exploration of dissonance or inconsistency among ideas, concepts or statements
(A) identifying and stating areas of
disagreement, (B) asking and answering questions to clarify source of extent of disagreement (C) restating the participants’ position and possibly advancing arguments or considerations.
Negotiation of meaning/co-construction
of knowledge-4
(A) Negotiation or clarification of the meaning of terms, (B) Negotiation of the relative weight to be assigned by types of argument, (C) Identification of areas of agreement or overlap among conflicting concepts (D) Proposals and negotiation of new statements embodying compromise, co-construction.
Testing and modification of proposed
synthesis or co-construction
(A) Testing the proposed synthesis against ‘received fact’, (B) testing against existing cognitive schema, (C) testing against personal knowledge.
Agreement statements/applications of
newly constructed meaning
(A) summarization of agreements,(B) applications of new knowledge (C) metacognitive statements of
participants illustrating their understanding that their knowledge or ways of thinking have changed as a result of the conference interaction experience, (D) testing against formal data collected (E) testing against contradictory testimony in literature.

Collaborative Behaviour categories:

Help giving: responding to questions & requests from others
Feedback giving:
providing feedback on proposals from others.
Exchanging resources & information to assist other group members
Sharing existing knowledge and information with others
Challenging others: challenging the contributions of other members & seeking to engage in debate
Explaining or elaborating: supporting one’s own position
(possibly following a challenge)
Seeking Input
Help seeking: seeking assistance from others
Feedback seeking: seeking feedback to a
position advanced
Advocating effort: urging others to contribute to the group effort
Monitoring group effort: Comments about the group’s process & achievements

Participants & Questions:
The researchers of the paper chose a sample population of 15 people and got asnwers to the following 6 levels of questions from them:

1. Basic constructivist question – questions that encourage students to create meaning out of the course content.
2. Literature-based question – questions whereby students are instructed to find existing, discipline specific literature to prove or disprove, agree or disagree, or expand upon the concept under discussion.
3. Experiential question – questions which are designed around a concept or theory that is taught but is aimed directly for students to bring in their personal experiences.
4. Post building – questions which are built on questions which were asked earlier in the course.
5. Evaluative/reflections question – questions whereby students are asked to reflect on the course so far or the current lesson.
6. Final question with instructions – questions that have some form of assessment and instruction build into it, e.g., asking students to show their depth of understanding or to synthesize and to evaluate the topic discussed

Analysis of the results:

After analyzing in detail the content of the replies posted by the students, several patterns of interactions emerged which revealed the various phases of interaction based on the Interaction Analysis Model. The students’ discourses represented reflective discourses through collaborative learning behavior that lead to construction of knowledge.

The data collected on the two topics posted in the online forum at the beginning of the course revealed that there were instances of agreement, disagreement, explanation and negotiation of meaning, help giving, sharing of knowledge and illustration of understanding as a result of participation in online discussion. This implies that the students were engaged in some fairly deep and thorough review of the topics. Based on the content analysis of the students’ discourses, longer postings tended to include support such as personal experiences, references from readings and links to relevant websites.
In addition, the students handled the discussion and participated actively throughout the discussion. The
lecturer only contributed four times on both topics. Thus, there is clear evidence that the students were involved in collaborative learning as they worked together to develop responses to the topic delivered and discussed in class. Much bridging and triggering occurred in the asynchronous collaboration, through
participation and taking responsibility in learning.

Some Inferences:

In the IAM model stats shown below, Phase I, which is about sharing and comparing information has the highest score because students need to share and compare information in order to develop anunderstanding of the topic before they moved on to the other phases. As the results revealed, the phase with thenext highest score is phase II on discovery and exploration of ideas, concepts and statements. This is expected because after the students have compared and shared information, they are ready and confident to discuss and explore ideas, concepts and statements posted by members of the discussion board. Both phases III and IV have similar results. Only 12.5% of replies fell in phase IV (applications of newly constructed meaning) because this is the beginning of the semester and the students may have not done a lot of reading yet.

The content analysis of collaborative behaviour as in the right side of the fig above, show that giving feedback and explaining have helped the students in the process of sharing
knowledge. In addition, their initiative of seeking input in order to seek assistance from their friends is also
indicative of collaborative learning behavior. Therefore, this suggests that the collaborative behavior contributed to the five phases of interaction (IAM model), which enabled students to arrive at knowledge construction through participation in the online forum discussion.
The findings also indicate that the students actively processed and reviewed the postings in the online
discussion forums. They also relate their postings to what they have learned in the lectures, besides providing links to relevant websites for further reading. Therefore, there is evidence that the students worked collaboratively in order to respond to the postings based on the topics presented during the lecture and tutorial. Also an analysis of the students' learning indicate various phases of knowledge construction (based on the IAM model), which reflects their levels of cognition.

Web References:
[1] Jamaluddin Aziz, Norizan Abdul Razak, Jalaluddin Abdul Malek, Nor Fariza Mohd Nor, Zaini Amir. Community Broadband: Education for All. Proceedings of the 8th. WSEAS Conference on
Education and Educational Technology, 2009, pp. 248-252.

[2] Saadé, R.G. & Huang, Qiong. Meaningful Learning in Discussion Forums: Towards Discourse Analysis. Issues In Informing Science and Technology, Vol. 6, 2009, pp. 87-98.

[3] Nor Fariza Mohd. Nor, Norizan Abdul Razak, Jamaluddin Aziz. E-learning: Analysis of online discussion forums in promoting knowledge construction through collaborative learning. WSEAS Transactions on Communications. 2010.

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