S. Niño, J.C. Castellanos-Ramirez, K. Parra

Universidad Autonoma de Baja California (MEXICO)
In the field of higher education, the educational proposals involving the use of digital forums have taken a leading role. The potential of these forums to maintain a multidirectional communication based on written texts that do not require spatial or temporal coincidence for participation are especially suitable for promote collaborative learning processes. However, the results of multiple investigations show that, often, the conversations in forums acquire a superficial nature and participants are incapable of engaging in effective learning processes. In an attempt to optimize the learning process in forums, there have been several lines of research that put emphasis on providing information to participants about the activities performed in order to help them improve collaborative processes and learning outcomes.

In this paper, from a sociocultural constructivist framework of collaborative learning processes and, in particular, the concept of distributed educational influence and the model developed for its analysis, the relationship between two different types of information and the degree of usefulness for students to guide their participation and improve their collaborative processes in an online forum is explored. Specifically, the two different types of information are based on two different types of indicators: indicators derived from the structural analysis of students’ activity in the forum, and indicators derived from the content analysis of their contributions.

The study was carried out with 26 students -organized into 4 small groups- who participated in 6 forums; each forum lasted 1 week. The groups had to develop a report of the core themes as a final product of forum activity. We provided to the groups a particular type of information about their activity developed on previous forum before the beginning of the next forum.

In order to value the usefulness that participants gave to the information provided to improve their collaborative processes and guide their own participation in the forums, a questionnaire was administered after each forum. The results show that majority of participants who received information derived from the content analysis of their contributions, assessed it as much more useful than participants who received information derived from structural analysis. The contrasting results between the two types of information suggest that indicators based on qualitative aspects of students’ activity are most useful to help them engage in more effective collaboration processes; however, although these indicators were valued as most useful since perception of the students, we did not find a clear relationship between these ratings and the quality of the reports developed by the students. From above, we reinforce our interest in further analysis of the relationship between the collaborative processes performed and the learning outcomes with the use of information and its usefulness to promote collaborative learning processes.