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How to Strategically Choose and Integrate Course Discussion Mediums

Bridget D. Arend (University of Denver, USA)
Kim Hosler (University of Northern Colorado, USA)
Session Information
July 8, 2014 - 5:30pm
Teaching & Learning Effectiveness
Major Emphasis of Presentation: 
Best Practices
Institutional Level: 
Multiple Levels
Audience Level: 
Session Type: 
Electronic Poster
Plaza Foyer
Session Duration: 
60 Minutes
Electronic Poster Session

This framework compares the qualities of synchronous and asynchronous discussion mediums to assist instructors in choosing and integrating them most effectively in blended learning courses.

Extended Abstract

College instructors use class discussions to explore ideas and concepts and engage students in critical thinking. In blended or web-enhanced courses, instructors now have the freedom to choose when, where, and how to convene discussions. Blended courses provide instructors with the opportunity to maximize the benefits of various discussion mediums. However, instructors may not always know the best discussion medium to use among the variety of choices available to them. To date there is a lack of models that help instructors identify why to use synchronous versus asynchronous discussion mediums, and how to integrate them strategically to enhance learning in a blended course.

An easily accessible framework could provide needed guidance to instructors teaching blended courses. For example, student discussions can take place in a live synchronous format, or in an asynchronous format through online threaded discussions. These different discussion mediums have varying strengths and benefits, lending themselves to different types of learning outcomes. For example, synchronous discussions consist of verbal discourse and tend to promote a spontaneous exchange of ideas (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008). On the contrary, asynchronous discussions involve a written discourse which is more extended and permanent, and tends to promote reflection before collaboration (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008). These characteristics give each discussion medium unique benefits that support different discussion goals.

In addition, these discussion mediums can be mixed and integrated in a blended course. Discussions can start in a face-to-face setting and then continue online asynchronously, or alternatively can start with online discussion postings and then follow up with a live classroom discussion. A framework that provides guidance regarding how to effectively integrate student discussions when using multiple discussion mediums would be beneficial for instructors as they lead students through a progression of inquiry (Garrison & Vaughan, 2008).

This progression of inquiry concept is more formally articulated in the cognitive presence construct found in the Community of Inquiry (CoI) model originally put forth by Garrison, Anderson, and Archer (2000). Cognitive presence offers elements through which instructors can examine various aspects of online and face-to-face student discussions in pursuit of higher order thinking and cognitive processing. Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2001) posited cognitive presence as a construct grounded in the process of critical thinking and composed of four elements arranged in a hierarchical scheme: triggering event; exploration of triggering events; integration of events through application and/or demonstration; resolution of the problem or dilemma initiated by the triggering event.

Using these four elements as a foundation, the authors have developed a framework for choosing and leveraging discussion mediums based on the references listed below. The goal of the framework is to bring theory into practice by providing a practical and quick-reference tool for instructors to understand the strengths of the various discussion mediums in order to distinguish the most appropriate medium to use. In addition, the framework will help identify how to integrate discussions that move between asynchronous and synchronous formats and vice versa. By using this tool, instructors should be able to design the most appropriate discussion structures to enhance student learning. This framework may be used across disciplines and within most courses being taught in a blended learning format.

References and literature drawn upon for the framework:

Brookfield, S. D. & Preskill, S. (2005). Discussion as a way of teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Caulfield, J. (2011). How to design and teach a hybrid course. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

Collison, G., Elbaum, B., Haavind, S., & Tinker, R. (2000). Facilitating online learning: Effective Strategies for moderators. Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2000). Critical inquiry in a text-based environment: Computer conferencing in higher education. The Internet and Higher Education, 2(2-3), 87-105.

Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2001). Critical thinking, cognitive presence and computer conferencing in distance education. American Journal of Distance Education, 15(1), 7-23.

Garrison, D. R. & Vaughan, N. D. (2008). Blended learning in higher education: Framework, principles, and guidelines. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Picciano, A. G. & Dziuban, C. D. (Eds). (2007) Blended learning: Research perspectives. Retrieved from http://sloanconsortium.org/node/921

Lead Presenter

Bridget Arend, PhD, is Director of University Teaching at the University of Denver. She supports teaching-related initiatives, conducts workshops, consults with faculty, and teaches face-to-face, online, and blended learning courses with DU's Morgridge College of Education. Bridget recently co-authored: Facilitating Seven Ways of Learning: A Resource for more Purposeful, Effective and Enjoyable College Teaching, published in 2013 by Stylus Press. Her research interests center around encouraging critical thinking in online asynchronous discussions and using educational technologies for learning.