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So what is an enhancement in student learning?

This might sound like a fairly straightforward question to answer, but let us provide an...

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Linda Price
7 July 2010

This might sound like a fairly straightforward question to answer, but let us provide an illustrative example to demonstrate how the issues need to be examined in some depth. Concerns have been expressed, both in campus-based and distance/distributed learning contexts, about how best to encourage learner participation in online discussion and collaboration environments. A recent review of the research literature (Hrastinski, 2008) identified six differing conceptions of ‘online learner participation’ within 36 articles. The researchers/authors of those articles had been looking for different forms of learner activity as evidence of ‘online participation’. These ranged from simple criteria such as ‘Participation as accessing e-learning environments’ and ‘Participation as writing’ to more complex criteria reflecting the purpose of the participation:

It was found that research is dominated by low-level conceptions of online participation, which relies on frequency counts as measures of participation. However, some researchers aim to study more complex dimensions of participation, such as whether participants feel they are taking part and are engaged in dialogues, reflected by using a combination of perceived and actual measures of participation. (Hrastinski, 2008, p. 1761)

So why is there such variability in the conceptions used by the researchers/authors of these articles? It could be argued that some researchers have chosen to use measures of participation that are easy to quantify and/or do not involve value judgments having to be made. But by focusing on an objective quantitative measure of ‘participation’ they have completely avoided engaging with any qualitative concerns with the learning that is supposed to be facilitated by online participation.  We suggest that the various criteria applied by the researchers reflect fundamental differences in the conceptions of what learning and teaching involve.

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