Exploring the Relationships between Facilitation Methods, Students’ Sense of Community, and Their Online Behaviors.

This article provides so much depth and knowledge on how students feel and react in the online school platform. The authors observed and interviewed graduate students studying education in a university of Canada. The online educational platform (Canvas for this class) for all students in this study is called Pepper. There were two facilitation models used: instructor or peer led discussions. All online courses used a social constructivist method of learning.
The main objective of this study was to observe how the facilitation method affected the students sense of community and the students activity patterns. Choosing this study to be a mixed mode and having quantitative and qualitative feedback from the students really added perspective. For the quantitative, authors used Pepper’s student activity report and also did a voluntary questionnaire. For the qualitative, they set up semistructured interviews. As a student just getting into education, the article was very clear and its lack of jargon helped with comprehension.

For measuring the community sense, using the questionnaire, the authors depicted these findings using Rovais Classroom Community Scale.
Student activities measured through Pepper were: note writing, revisiting, rereading, and liking. The students in the study were divided into different clusters, based on activity levels:

  • keeners: higher activity levels, post way more than required
  • outsiders: minimum activity levels
  • discussants: initiate and maintain communication. reply to posts.
  • respondents: participate, but wait for others to initiate discussions.

The role of the instructor is of so much value and in this study it is apparent. Instructor facilitated discussions made students feel less isolated. Students in the peer facilitated models reported lower community levels and had way less student activity. The connections between student activities also showed relation dependent on which facilitation model was used. For example, note taking and editing scored way higher in instructor facilitated model courses. The instructors keeping the discussions on topic and providing feedback, made students feel valued and their time worthy. And one of their roles that I found most important that this article also mentioned “introducing opposing views to students.”

The only criticism I have for the study is that the guidelines/rubric systems for discussions varied per class, which is a limitation to the study. How can student activity be measured equally throughout when requirements of post length/amount of posts per week are different? Other than that, I know the authors carefully thought out this study. A proof of that is when they mentioned they started out with 8 classes (4 peer & 4 instructor), but eliminated one of each (peer & instructor) after finding out criteria wasn’t equal.

I haven’t read many mixed methods studies and I feel as though this one exhibits important and valuable information on both the quantitative and qualitative side. As I try to envision how to design an online course for this class, I am taking this study into account. At first I thought the course could be using Wenger’s “community of practice” approach and students can just freely discuss and learn themselves, but this shows how important instructor role is in having the students in the class feel connected as a whole.

 

Phirangee, K., Epp, C., and Hewitt, J. (2016). Exploring the Relationships between Facilitation Methods, Students’ Sense of Community, and Their Online Behaviors. Online Learning, 20 (2), 134-154.