Asynchronous Discussion Choices: Text-based or Audio Interactions

Author Information
Dorothy Fuller
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
Black Hills State University
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

Using a voice-recorded discussion option in online learning can increase the quality of online discussion postings while also increasing student satisfaction by providing students with more personal choices for course interaction and by generating a greater sense of social presence through vocal comments.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

Reviews of recent literature (Johnson, 2006) sustain the recognition of structured asynchronous discussion as an effective tool for supporting students’ learning, reflective thought and use of higher order thinking. Yet many students still report dissatisfaction with the loss of non-verbal cues that enhance human communication (Reilly, Gallagher-Lepak, & Killion, 2012). With the advent of voice recording tools, there has been a flurry of studies that report student satisfaction and preference for these tools, but research that compares levels of quality of discussion content when conducted with traditional text-based discussion tools and newer voice recorded discussion tools are still rare.

To determine if both quality of discussion and student satisfaction could be maintained or increased through the use of recorded discussion activities, members of a graduate-level class in technology integration were provided opportunities to try recording their discussion postings and compare that activity with the more traditional text-based discussions and report their satisfaction levels with both.

The course was divided into three segments: In the first third of the course, students were required to participate in structured class discussions using the traditional text-based discussion boards. During the second third of the course, participants were required to submit their discussion postings in an audio format, using the voice recorder of the learning management system. In the final third of the course all participants were still required to participate in the assigned structured asynchronous discussions, but they were given a choice of which input format they would use.  Schraw, Flowerday & Lehman (2001) have reported that meaningful choices related to class content and learning activities are conducive to increased student interest and satisfaction with the course. At the end of the course all participants were asked to complete a survey reflecting their assessment of strengths and weaknesses of each system and stating their preferences for future use in asynchronous discussions.

At the beginning of the course, students were given the discussion rubric, an explanation of established criteria in the rubric and specific examples of designated levels of performance. The same rubric was applied for both written and oral discussions. Before students began the voice-recorder phase of the discussions, they had access to a tutorial on how to use the voice recorded for posting discussion messages and an introductory recorded message from the instructor. The quality of discussion content was coded according to the five levels of critical thinking (elementary clarification, in-depth clarification, inference, judgment and strategies) in Henri’s Cognitive Dimension Model (1991), and comparisons of levels of critical thinking were made between the text and recorded postings.

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

At the end of the course all participants (N-16) stated that they liked using the voice recorded discussion tool. Explanatory reasons included:

  • I liked the novelty of the tool (5)
  • I liked having a choice (6)
  • I liked the freedom from typing (3)
  • I liked being able to hear voice inflections from others which helped me understand individual feelings (2)
  • This added more human contact (2)

Even if I wrote notes down on paper before recording myself, I found that much more came out of my brain than I ever expected. (1)

Negative student comments included:

  • It was more work because I had to write out everything and then record it (4)
  • I don't like hearing my own recorded voice (7)
  • It was harder to critique others' postins because talking is more personal than typing. (1)

I had to listen to the whoe recorded message rather than just skimming for content in the written message. (2)

Over all,

  • 100% reported enjoyment in using the voice recorder
  • 75% preferred listening over reading other postings

Only 13% maintained that they preferred the text-based discussion over the audio discussions.

From an instructional point of view, the audio messages presented a strong incentive to increase their use in other course:

  • 88% of the audio messages were stronger than the text-based messages. The messages were better organized, more complete and free from most grammatical errors.
  • There was less digression and fewer off-topic messages.

Evidence of student engagement included an increased frequency of participation and a greater number of postings opened during the segments when everyone was using the voice recording messaging.

Because of the positive results from this pilot group, the activity will be replicated with future groups and other faculty members, enlarging the activity sphere to include both graduate and undergraduate teacher education students.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

Access:  Use of voice-recorded messaging increases access for students who may struggle with keyboarding either because of physical limitations or underdeveloped skills. Listening to the recordings eases the reading requirements. Having a choice of recorded or written discussion postings also provides greater opportunities to do well for those with strong learning style preferences.

Learning Effectiveness: In the end-of-course survey, multiple students reported satisfaction with the recording option because its use provided more immediacy and social presence than was available in a text-only discussion environment. Addition of verbal cues through voice inflections helped to clarify meaning for participants when they might have had trouble interpreting meaning or intent in written words alone. Students also expressed appreciation for having choices in interacting with others in the class. This is consistent with Schraw, Flowerday & Lehman’s findings that students report that choice increases interest in an activity and having control over the methods of participation in course activities increases intrinsic motivation and interest in the course content.

Student-generated content was stronger when recorded rather than written. This may be in part because most students reported writing the content first and then reading it in the recorder. But this method actually replicates the desired method of draft, proofread and edit before posting, which most people skip when working only in a text-based environment. Regardless, there was a marked increase in quality of postings that were more organized, focused on the topic and complete.

Student Satisfaction: Survey results presented strong evidence of increased student satisfaction. Students reported liking the novelty of using a new tool, liking the increased social presence through the opportunity to speak and listen, and they appreciated the elements of choice available to them during the final third of the course.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

A simple digital recording tool is all that is required. Many learning management systems now include these as a standard tool, and there are other web-based recorders that can be used as well.

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

The equipment used in this activity was integrated into the learning management system used by the university, so there was no additional cost beyond the contractual agreement for the LMS. There are also free recording resources such as Audacity, which could be incorporated into a class as well.

References, supporting documents: 

Henri, F. (1991). Computer conferencing and content analysis. In A. R. Key (Ed.), Collaborative learning through computer conferencing. Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag.

Johnson, G. M. (2006). Synchronous and asynchronous text-based CMC in educational contexts: A review of recent research. TechTrends 59(4) 46 – 53.

Reilly, J. R.., Gallagher-Lepak, S. & Killion, C. (2012). Me and my computer: Emotional factors of online learning. Nursing Education Perspectives, 33(2) 100 – 105.

Schraw, G., Flowerday, T. & Lehman, S. (2001). Increasing situational interest in the classroom. Educational Psychology Review, 13(3), 211 – 224.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Dorothy Fuller
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