Engaging students at high cognitive levels in peer-mentored online discussions.

Holland, Janet Louise, Ph.D., The University of Kansas, 2006.


This study addresses problems observed in text based online threaded discussion forums used for learning in higher education. Using a One-way Repeated Measures Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) research design, students' perceived course satisfaction was measured within positive affective communities, including the role played by student peer mentors and high-level cognition through a unique combination of specific targeted guidelines over a five-week time span. With the tremendous growth of online learning at all grade levels it is important to focus our attention of effective way of enhancing how students are best able to learn. Although the data collected for this study was at the college level, it has important implications for training teachers who will be instructing students in online learning environments at all education levels.

One cognitive problem observed online includes low-level processing, questions, and responses. Often, discussions are conducted without the benefit of guidelines to foster quality interactions.

A second problem deals with students waiting for classmates to read the dialogue, and then write entries based on the postings alone. This problem illustrates the need for quality accountability to actively engage all students in a collaborative peer mentored environment with shared responsibility for learning

The third problem includes social behaviors detracting students from reaching their full potential. Since online discussions are social in nature, it is essential to examine the social components within the context of building the online academic learning community.

The National pilot included 51 participants to test the reliability of the survey instruments, with two additional pilots and the actual study using three intact online courses. The combined online class participants totaled 38 students. All three courses were taken from a small Midwest university in a course on Webpage Design. The combined classroom demographics included 24 female and 14 male students geographically dispersed across the United States. Students include undergraduate pre-service teachers, maintaining accreditation, seeking a Masters degree, industry, or continuing education. The students collectively represent primarily Instructional Design Technology in wide range of discipline areas. The study participants are from three different courses using the same instructor, curriculum, and textbook materials.

Directions for future research include: (1) Refinement of the affective community, peer group, peer mentor, and cognitive guidelines; (2) Refinement of the perceived affective community, peer group, peer mentor, and cognitive survey questions; (3) Issues associated with the use of positive affective community, peer groups, peer mentoring and high-level cognition; (4) Refined pedagogy; and (5) Improved web-based management systems reflecting the needed underlying educational pedagogy.