P. Siklander1, J. Kangas1, S. Ruhalahti2, P. Korva1

1University of Lapland (FINLAND)
Teachers and educators try to do their best for getting students motivated and engaged in learning and interaction. Unmotivated and non-engaged students is a problem in Finland and other countries (Quinn, 2013). Promoting interest and engagement in the online learning environments increases students’ intrinsic motivation to interact, learn and deepen knowledge. Aim in this study was to explore which triggers are effective in online discussion within university students in the educational field. Following research question was specified: Which factors raise students’ interest in online discussion?

Recent research (Hidi & Renninger, 2006;Järvelä & Renninger, 2014; Renninger & Bachrach, 2015) in education and educational psychology evidences that interest, motivation and engagement form a process, in which triggers are in a key role, because they can wake up and maintain student’s interest. The four-phase model (Hidi & Renninger, 2006) of interest development suggests that each phase can be characterized by varying amount of affect, knowledge and value. The four phases are 1) situational interest, 2) maintained situational interest, 3) emerging individual interest, and 4) well developed individual interest.

Teachers and educators often think that students either have interest or they do not have, but they might not recognize that interest can be aroused by features of environments, by designing teaching and learning and by different activities. Arousing interest takes time, practice, and awareness for perceiving triggers around students’ formal and informal, virtual and physical environments. Triggers can advance problem solving and increase enjoy for learning. (Roberts & Ousey, 2004)

Only few studies has explored triggers in higher education. A comparative study in an online course show that reflective triggers were extensively employed by the participants and they were perceived to be useful for reflection and learning (Veerporten, Westera & Specht, 2012). Another study (Lu & Chan, 2015) shows that student who use video triggers put more effort for understanding problems than students who use paper triggers. Triggers can also enhance learning in virtual groups (Annabi, 2007).

University students (N=74) took part in the course, where their tasks were individually write an essay and collaboratively in small groups have online discussion. The topic of the essay was “What inspires, interests and motivates in an online discussion?”, and the aim of the discussion was to define criteria for high-quality online discussion, which can enhance learning. The data was categorized by using qualitative content analysis (Shreier, 2012) and Atlas.ti 6.2 software.

The findings suggest that the topic is the most effective trigger. It raises interest first in individual level, and maintain triggering effect in collaborative level. Triggering topic is open enough and requires problem-solving. Another effective trigger deals with collaboration and interaction, which refers to reciprocal and equal participation. The third trigger is feedback. Peer feedback motivates more than teachers’ feedback. Other triggers are atmosphere, collaborative learning, learning environment, teacher and goal-orientation. Results bring useful information for designing learning and teaching processes in higher education, particularly in technology-based environments.