Integrating asynchronous online discussions into the classroom in web-enhanced courses
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Internet access and the increased use of course management systems to supplement classroom instruction in higher education in the last decade (Green, 1996; 2006) present instructors with opportunities to combine online and classroom instruction to enhance student learning. Computer-mediated communication tools like e-mail, discussion forums, and chat rooms available in course Web sites make it possible to continue course discussions beyond the time and space of the classroom. The interactions resulting from instructor use of the discussion board - an asynchronous communication tool available in most course management systems - in two web-enhanced courses that used Blackboard TM are investigated in this study. The most important finding of this study was the interaction and synergy between online and classroom discussions that resulted in several benefits for the professors and students. Semi-structured interviews with the professors and 26 students as well as classroom observations indicated that online and classroom discussions influence each other in web-enhanced courses, and that combining online discussions with classroom discussions can benefit both instructors and students. High student participation in classroom as well as online discussions, additional opportunities for engagement with course content, high instructor-student and student-student interaction, reflection on course readings, and exposure to multiple student perspectives were some benefits cited by both students and professors in the study. The professors reported additional benefits such as insight into students' understanding of readings and time saved planning, structuring, and grading course discussions. Based on the findings, two models for the integration of online discussions in the classroom are presented and the role played by instructional design, instructor participation, instructor feedback, and instructor use of online discussions in crafting a comprehensive learning experience are highlighted in this research. The findings of this study reinforce the importance of choices that instructors make when using technology to achieve their goals and learning objectives. The report concludes with recommendations for instructors wishing to integrate online discussions into the classroom in higher education and directions for future research.
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