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Time is key to online discussion success

December 18, 2013

In the media

January 20, 2014 in The Peak: Student Newspaper: Time is key to successful online learning

January 27, 2014 in InformED: Why We Need To Teach Students Time Management

If you think online learning gives you all the time in the world to learn, think again say four researchers, including three in Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Education.

Associate professor Alyssa Wise, her master’s student Simone Hausknecht, her recently graduated master’s of education student Yuting Zhao and an American researcher say time management is crucial to successful online learning, especially now.

“As more learning experiences include online components or take place wholly online, it is important to understand how to best support students in being successful as learners in this exciting but challenging medium,” says Wise.

“An understanding of the unique temporal aspects of online learning discussions can contribute to this.”

In Assessment and Evaluation of Time Factors in Online Teaching and Learning, a new book published by IGI Global, the four have penned a pivotal chapter that describes how four temporal factors govern online discussions.

Drawing largely on original research conducted by Wise and her student co-authors in a federally funded E-Listening project, the four describe how and why duration, sequence, pace and salience determine online discussions’ educational value.

Even though temporal considerations are big in online discussions, this book provides a rare analysis of them from various perspectives with a view to helping teachers, students and other groups improve the learning process.

Duration refers to the amount of time a student takes to complete a particular learning task or activity. Sequence refers to the order in which different phases of an activity are conducted. Pace refers to the rate at which different learning events occur over time. Salience refers to learners’ awareness of time passing in their online experience.

Unless learners, educators and education program designers know how to effectively manage these factors then online learning discussions can become vacuous rather than valuable. The chances of discussions becoming incoherent or disjointed because online learning groups don’t have a banked collective memory of what is being said can negate the benefits of student-centred online-learning taking place “anytime, anyplace”.

In their four-year E-Listening project the SFU researchers used clickstream data to uncover the “hidden” aspects of how students participate in online learning experiences.

“This project revealed that student engagement in online discussions is hugely varied and that there are important differences in how students pace and distribute their online learning time,” says Wise.

“We also learned that giving students access to their temporal data can increase their awareness of their online behaviours and ability to modify them as needed.”

Some highlights of the authors’ observations and recommendations in Chapter 8 of Assessment and Evaluation of Time Factors in Online Teaching and Learning are:

  • Students tend to spend more time participating in learning discussions online than in classes.
  • Students should try to engage in a limited number of extended online discussion sessions dispersed over time rather than frequent short sessions in which they skim content.
  • Teachers can enhance learning with reflective activities that have students assess how ideas in the discussions have changed or progressed over time.

By Carol Thorbes, Information Officer, SFU Public Affairs and Media Relations