1 University of Sydney (AUSTRALIA)
2 Queensland University of Technology (AUSTRALIA)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2022 Proceedings
Publication year: 2022
Pages: 3651-3657
ISBN: 978-84-09-45476-1
ISSN: 2340-1095
doi: 10.21125/iceri.2022.0889
Conference name: 15th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 7-9 November, 2022
Location: Seville, Spain
Communication in online learning environments became essential in the global pandemic and lockdown. Apart from online lectures and classes, many educators began or increased their use of asynchronous text discussion boards. Often educators are faced with a choice of many different discussion boards or tools and would benefit from better understanding how students may engage with these different types.

This study explores the use of three different asynchronous text discussion tools used in Canvas Learning Management System (LMS), by drawing upon the concept of ‘set design’ from the Activity Centred Analysis and Design (ACAD) framework. Discussion boards are conceptualised as shaping the learning activity which occurs in it, as the physical (digital and material) elements and the social context of discussion.

To understand how the educational design of discussions intersects with technological affordances and barriers, this exploratory study adopted a qualitative approach to data collection. Over a period of one year, university business students enrolled in four postgraduate subjects (including accounting, finance, and leadership subjects) and an undergraduate first year business subject were invited to share their perceptions of online discussion boards. Participation in the discussion boards was voluntary and ungraded, and were designed as either a space to ask questions and elaborate on topics, to critique and construct knowledge, or share ideas. Data from ten student focus groups was thematically analysed, refined and coded, to compare different types of student engagement with three different online asynchronous discussion tools in five different courses with varying course designs.

The findings reveal that different discussion tools may satisfy different needs, even if educators’ design intentions and expectations around discussions often do not match students. Furthermore, the value of discussion boards may be better assessed as part of a learning ecosystem, rather than evaluated as discrete tools. Future research directions are suggested in analysing how discussion boards are shaped by technology, and to support educators to understand the design of online conversations across different tools to make evidence-based decisions.
Discussion forums, set design, ACAD framework, online learning, discussion forum design, discussion tools.