UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Dilemmas in an online academic discussion Gallant, Jenny Jin Ying


Since the application of Web-based templates in distance education, the threaded discussion forum is regarded as one of the most effective tools for promoting interaction in a virtual learning community (Smith, Ferguson, & Caris, 2003). However, as interactions are being encouraged, facilitated, and evaluated in the discussion online forum, what do students do when they interact with each other, with course content, and with their instructors? What problems do they face as they ‘talk’ with each other? What strategies do they use to balance and negotiate the embedded institutional discourse, course objectives and requirements, personal ideals and goals? This qualitative case study investigated some of the complexities of different aspects of the online threaded discussion in a Canadian university graduate online course. The data was collected from an asynchronous graduate seminar. The goal of the study was to examine the tensions and conflicts that pertain to the interactions in the online community in order to better understand the nature of the interaction in an online learning community and to provide insights for more effective online learning environment. The findings suggest that a major challenge for establishing a successful online academic community is the recognition and better understanding of the complex nature of the online discussion. The issues of academic versus interpersonal, freedom versus constraints, vulnerability versus the need to socialize underpin students’ engagement in academic learning and satisfaction. The finding also indicates that the notion of ‘academic community’ unfolded in discussion forum needs to recognize the legitimacy of and to include and facilitate a space for social/interpersonal interactions in addition to academic content learning. The study indicated that the perceptions of the functions of online academic discussion needed to be considered in the context of personal education ideologies and learning goals. Students’ ideologies of education play a role in their perceptions of the functions of the learning environment. Their perceptions affect their participation and satisfaction of their online experience. Knowledge of their perceptions helps the instructor adjust to allow variations of styles and degrees of interactions.

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