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Integrating Technology: An innovative approach to improving online discussion boards

Special Issue: Instructional Technology in the Online Classroom

By Frederick R. Kates, Hanadi Hamadi, Malcolm M. Kates, Samantha A. Larson, George Raul Audi / December 2018

TYPE: EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES
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Online discussion boards are a standard instructional tool used in learning management systems (LMS) to deliver online material. About 99 percent of universities and colleges in the U.S. use an LMS [1]. LMSs are increasingly used as platforms for online and blended courses. Online education continues to grow, with roughly 25 percent of all college students enrolled in at least one online or blended/hybrid course, delivering 30-79 percent of content online with the preferred delivery mechanism being instructor-led and peer-to-peer discussions [2]. With limited additional technology and minor alterations to the way standard discussion boards are implemented, students can benefit from becoming co-collaborators of instructional content and contribute to peer feedback. Together, these benefits may improve student engagement and content retention.

As online discussion boards have become a key element in LMSs, efforts to maximize the benefits are needed. Some contend that online discussion boards cannot connect students and instructors in the same manner as face-to-face interaction in the classroom [3]. If this technology is not effectively integrated into a course, instructors may find that students do not actively participate in their discussion posts [4]. Others argue that discussion boards have the potential to support higher-order learning and can be instrumental in developing online learning communities [5].

Most LMS discussion boards can run asynchronously, giving students ample time to post and reply, or synchronously, via a live online chat facilitating real-time dialogue. Online discussion boards may democratize the course discussion as their open nature allows contribution from all students. Students who might otherwise be soft-spoken in person may feel they can respond more thoroughly and without fear of judgment in an online discussion board [6]. By in large, institutions using LMSs to provide traditional and online courses are only beginning to recognize and appreciate the collaborative capabilities of e-learning [7].

Enhancing Discussion Boards with Student-Created Videos and Peer Reviews

Benefits of student-created videos. Changing the way discussion boards are used today, from teacher-generated prompts to student-generated videos and discussion questions, may improve a student’s overall learning experience and course engagement. When combined with the peer-review or “Sandwich Critique” strategy, engagement and feedback is incumbent on the students. Adding to these techniques the student-created video and peer review innovation leverages the pedagogical framework of peer instruction. Simply put, peer instruction is defined as students of similar age and/or educational level teaching one another. Peer instruction has gained momentum as technology has become a more significant part of higher education [8].

For example, studies examining student-created digital videos have shown positive results in motivation and retention of course content [9, 10, 11]. Having a peer teach material via a student-created video on assigned topics is a reciprocal style of teaching, shifting from passive participation in the online classroom to active facilitation of learning [12]. The benefits of peer-instruction go beyond increasing motivation as the student-instructor is provided with a deeper understanding of the content and improved critical thinking and reflection skills [13,14]. Much of this reflection comes after the videos are loaded in the discussion board, as fellow students view and respond with constructive feedback.

Benefits of peer-reviews. Within higher education, delivering and receiving feedback can be challenging. Formative assessment focuses on improving learning to maximize student success. We define peer-review as an arrangement whereby all peers in the classroom are at a similar stage of learning and provide feedback to one another [15]. It is a formative assessment of students by students on strengths, weakness and areas needing improvement allowing students to act as peer-tutors [16, 17, 18]. Instructors using protective social strategies, such as the sandwich critiques, can enhance deep learning amongst students. The sandwich critique is conceptualized by first providing a compliment, followed by criticism, and then another compliment, thus sandwiching the constructive criticism to enhance its reception [19, 20, 21]. This encourages students to thoughtfully reflect on their classmates’ work (since they need to come up with two strengths and one criticism) rather than provide surface level compliments to their peers. As opposed to students being told they did a “good job” from their peers, they walk away with a better understanding of what was successful and what was not in their delivery. The sandwich critique methodology can readily be employed within a LMS discussion board for effective engagement.

Based on our research, education literature has identified key benefits of peer assessment as ownership development, improved motivation, encouraged self-learning and autonomy, integration of assessment in the learning process, development of evaluation and constructive feedback skills, and emphasis on deep learning and metacognitive strategy use [22, 23, 24]. In all, the integration of peer review has the potential to increase the quality of online submissions and build comfort and normalcy around receiving constructive peer feedback.

Instructional Preparation and Student Resources

Preparing students for the assignment. While students are often comfortable searching YouTube, or other online platforms, for videos, many lack the skill and understanding needed to develop, upload, and share educational content [25]. To mitigate the discomfort students experience working with new software and address the expectations of technologically oriented assignments, such as video production, basic instruction should be provided.

Prior studies have reinforced the idea that students find great value in developing their own videos, but have concerns surrounding their experience and skill level working with editing software [9]. To combat this learning curve, we propose filming an introductory, instructor-created video that models the creation process and provides students with links to software and tutorials.

We suggest creating a discussion board assignment where students can then explore the resources on their own and share valuable their insights and understanding with their classmates. Within a given cohort of students, it is likely that students will already possess varying levels of skill and comfort with video development. Therefore, we recommend administering a short quiz at the start of any given course to identify prior knowledge of video editing software and skills relevant to this assignment. Those who are well versed should then be dispersed among groups so students have an “expert” to turn to for assistance.

YouTube as an extension of the LMS discussion board. As YouTube remains the predominant platform for video sharing, we also encourage students to develop their own YouTube channel to upload and share their videos. As the platform has grown, new features have been added allowing it to function much like the discussion board in a LMS. The feature that allows video creators to assign their own video with tags, keywords, and links to other videos is essential to generating traffic between videos. The ability to link videos within an expansive platform, such as YouTube, allows for the development of a “small-world network” where interested students and viewers can view and respond to multiple videos related to the subject at hand [26]. Instructors should address “netiquette” being professional in all forms of online communication as well as explain intellectual property and YouTube privacy settings to the students. The default setting for YouTube uploads is public which means anyone can view the video. Private setting means only individuals with YouTube accounts that are invited by the owner of the channel can view the upload video, which can be confusing to students. Our recommendation is to use the unlisted setting where only those who know the link can view the video and the students can share the link with anyone, even those who do not have a YouTube account/username. The production of an online network such as YouTube is very similar to the LMS discussion board. Thus, student comfort in uploading and responding to classmate videos in the LMS may be a precursor to engaging in and responding to related videos online.

Mac and PC video editing software. There are several free video-editing programs available to students on both Mac and PC operating systems. A commonly used program is iMovie, available free on Mac operating systems, which allows for video editing, addition of music, and narration with no barriers to uploading. This is unlike numerous programs that allow students to create a video free of cost, and then charge a fee when a student attempts to export the final product. Additional programs, similar to iMovie, are available for PC users including Adobe Spark, VirtualDub, Wax, OpenShot, VideoPad, Photo Story 3, VSDC Video Editor, and Movie Maker.

Creating an Effective Discussion Question

While the development of a video is a productive learning experience in and of itself, the end product is meant to stimulate a conversation amongst students via the discussion board. For this reason, students are required to submit a question to their fellow students, following their video, to encourage dialogue and promote higher-order learning. Continual exposure to and testing based on higher-order thinking skills is vital to e-learning education where engaged discussion can, at times, be limited [27]. If students have not previously been exposed to Bloom’s Taxonomy [28], we suggest that instructors discuss higher-order thinking skills (e.g., analyze, evaluate, create) and directing students to a university website focused creating higher order questions such as: http://citt.ufl.edu/tools/blooms-taxonomy/ , https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/blooms-taxonomy/, and Bloom’s critical thinking cue questions.

Once students complete the video development process, they will upload a final version to the LMS for instructor review and grading. Prior to the start of an online or blended learning course, an instructor should develop a rubric for grading student video submissions, which benefits the learner and the instructor because the rubric clarifies the criteria and expectations. There is a wider variety of existing video production rubrics. Some are simple and broadly cover the video production process [29] or are extremely elaborate cover preproduction phase, production phase and the final production [30]. It is important to develop a rubric unique to the assignment at hand and the rubric criteria will differ based on the type of media assignment [31]. For example, the rubric shared in the appendix combines elements from video production rubrics with discussion board rubrics (Appendix A). When it comes to rubrics, one size does not fit all applications. The goal of developing and using a rubric is to reduce confusion and put the emphasis on learning outcomes not simply the task of creating a video with a discussion question. Another recommendation is to leverage capabilities of the LMS by integrating the rubric in the assignments and by providing text feedback outside of the rubric’s numerical score. The addition of brief comments is key to continued student learning and refinement of technological skills that will be used in future assignments, courses, and careers.

Incorporating Student Videos and Peer-Reviews into Discussion Boards

After submitting their video for instructor review, students must also submit it to their classmates for feedback and evaluation. Within a discussion board, students have the ability to link content beyond traditional text. Today’s LMSs provide students the power to hyperlink URLs, connect with other pages on the course webpage, and upload media files, such as their video. Once submitted, the video will be available for view and comment by their peers, prompting immediate engagement. Direct upload to a discussion board provides further ease of use to the creator’s peers by eliminating the need for them to search on YouTube or open it via a file sharing system.

In a class with a sizeable number of students, it is recommended that students be placed into teams of eight to twelve for the purposes of the course discussion forums. For example, three teams of four students would be placed in a discussion group of twelve, which means everyone would watch two videos. Doing so makes and responding to peer posts more manageable for students and tracking student engagement more manageable for the instructor.

Encouraging High-Quality Submissions

To further facilitate student engagement and foster pride and ownership in video development, it is recommended that a peer-selected award for ‘Best Video’ be given. Once students have the opportunity to view all submitted videos, they should vote on which one they felt best conveyed the creator’s intent and was most visually appealing. Once the voting period is complete, instructors can then tally the votes and show the winning video in class or online at a later date. The sense of competition ignited by the award drives innovation, engagement, and ownership among students, leading to higher quality submissions.

Conclusion

Peer assessment has been shown to positively impact student achievement, learning, and attitudes when compared to teacher assessment alone [15, 32]. Evidence for such affects using critical thinking skills within discussion board posts and student videos has not been fully explored. This article highlights the benefits of such techniques to enhance student learning. The suggested next step is to conduct a pilot study assessing the student’s perspective of the impact active video production and peer-evaluation had on their learning.

The online classroom is complicated and instructional technology is continuously evolving with the development of software, hardware, and pedagogical approaches. Effective online instructors discover that reevaluation of and critical reflection on current applications and standard procedures are essential strategies to enhance eLearning in higher education. In summary, there is always more to learn and more to try with instructional technology. Our hope is that this article inspires you to look beyond established instructional techniques to maximize the functionality of new digital learning tools.

References

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About the Authors
Frederick R. Kates III, MBA, Ph.D., serves as a Clinical Assistant Professor for Health Services Research, Management and Policy Department in the College of Public Health and Health at the University of Florida. He received his Ph.D in Health Services Policy & Management from the University of South Carolina.

Hanadi Hamadi is an Assistant Professor, Health Administration Department, University of North Florida. She earned her Ph.D. from University of South Carolina. Her research agenda focuses on the evaluation of health outcome initiatives, with an emphasis on cost effectiveness and policy impact of social-determinants-focused Health outcome initiatives.

Malcolm M. Kates is a second-year medical (M.D.) student at the University of Florida College of Medicine. Malcolm received a B.S. in Biology and a B.A. in International Studies from the College of Charleston in Charleston, SC. After graduating from the College of Charleston, Malcolm spent one year conducting research at the NIH in Bethesda, MD as a Postbaccelaureate IRTA Fellow and is currently interning at the World Health Organization. 

Samantha Larson is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Health Services Research, Management and Policy at the University of Florida. She earned her BS in Nutrition Science from the University of Minnesota and MPH in Health Policy from Creighton University. Ms. Larson spent several years working in government affairs and strategic planning for BlueCross BlueShield of Vermont.

George Raul Audi is an Assistant Professor, Florida A&M University. He holds a Ph.D. from University of South Carolina in Health Services Policy and Management.  His research interests involve; healthcare organizational structures, financial modeling, financial market analysis and healthcare policy. 

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