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Participating in online discussions is defined as "the process where learners and educators are actively engaged in on-line text-based communication with each other." Effective on-line participation, should lead to a deeper understanding of the course material.
The purposes of on-line discussions are categorized in two ways: on-line discussions act "as the locus of shared knowledge and practice" or "as a forum within which diverse and (sometimes) conflicting beliefs and values can be articulated and negotiated."
Effective participation contains three attributes: "a deep understanding of the material, critical evaluation of ideas and meta-cognition." The paper explores how to identify and assess these attributes.
One way to determine effective student participation is by categorizing student comments according to Bloom's taxonomy. Another method is using content analysis models to "determine the learning outcomes associated with the level of discussion." Collecting quantitative date can help supplement content analysis.
Online discussion participation can allow for assessments and/or feedback at frequent intervals and an evaluation criteria should be included.
The author suggests having students complete a personal reflective report versus the instructor completing a content analysis assessment. Students can also peer-assess other discussion messages using an evaluation criteria. The instructor could also participate regularly to model expected evaluation behaviour.