Students' Knowledge Construction in Asynchronous Online Discussions: Analysis of Group Size, Duration of Online Discussion and Facilitation Techniques

Project Number
OER 08/08 HKF

Project Duration
May 2009 - August 2011


The use of Information Communications Technology (ICT) will continue to be a prominent feature of education in Singapore. For instance, the Masterplan for Information and Communications Technology will soon be entering its third phase (mp3) next year. One of its four goals is to use ICT to allow mobility and flexibility in learning, freeing it from the physical constraints of classrooms. An asynchronous online discussion (AOD) forum is one example of an ICT tool that could help achieve this goal. An AOD may be defined as a text-based computer-mediated communication environment that allows students to discuss ideas without the constraint of time and place. A discussion provides the primary means for students to exchange ideas, explore dissonance of viewpoints, and negotiate meanings; a notion consistent with the social constructivist learning perspective (Vygotsky, 1978). Unfortunately, many studies have found that students' discussions in online forums are often limited (Chai & Khine, 2006; Hewitt, 2005; Schellens & Valcke, 2005). Cheung and Hew (2005), for example, found that students were more interested in merely voicing their opinions to their classmates' queries - what Gunawardena et al. (1997) referred to as predominantly phase I level of knowledge construction (sharing of information). The main objective of this proposed study is to deepen our understanding of what may influence student knowledge construction in asynchronous online discussions, especially phases II to V of Gunawardena et al.'s model which are beyond the mere phase of information sharing (phase I). Specifically, phase II refers to the: exploration of dissonance among the ideas; phase III: negotiation of ideas; phase IV: testing and modification of proposed synthesis which includes testing statements against existing experiences, formal data collected, and literature; and phase V: statements of agreement and application of newly constructed meaning. Our proposed study is significant in two fundamental ways. First, this study helps teacher educators better understand possible factors that could promote higher-levels of knowledge construction such as phases II-V. Second, this study examines knowledge construction from the perspective of student-led online discussions. Hitherto, there is little research that directly addresses student facilitation techniques with respect to participants' knowledge construction, compared to instructor-led facilitation. A mixed-method research methodology utilizing both qualitative and quantitative approaches will be used in this study. Data will be collected primarily through online observation of AOD forums, and content analysis of participants' reflection logs and interviews. Participants in the study will be students at NIE.

Research Themes
ICT Integration

Funding Source

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