Online Modules Discussion Forums: A Pedagogical Platform Facilitating Learning in DE Environments
Keywords:distance education, online discussion forum, pedagogical tools, student support, student success
Student support in an open distance e-learning (ODeL) institution takes different forms and shapes. These forms and shapes are used in defining the nature of ODeL institutions. Bridging the distance gap between students in ODeL institutions, different platforms to facilitate interaction among students, students and their instructors are developed and made available. These interactions assist students by reducing the feeling of loneliness in the learning process. Loneliness is one of the experiences associated with dropout rates that negatively impact students’ success rate. The question is, are students making use of these platforms as they were designed for, which is to facilitate the process of learning by interacting with other stakeholders such as with fellow students, students and instructors, students and content? The other question, given that students are from diverse backgrounds, is whether the platform is equally usable and accessible to all students. Are the other social challenges, such as poverty, low technological skills, inequality, network coverage, and loadshedding among factors, considered when introducing and rolling out these platforms to students? Leading the pack in these platforms is the online discussion forum, which is embedded in learning management systems (LMS), available on each online or blended or hybrid module registered for. For example, if a student has registered for two modules, each module has its own discussion forum. There is a concern whether participation in online discussion forums is related to students’ success. The study determines whether participation in online discussion forums is related to a student’s success in the module. Two modules were conveniently selected and used for meeting the purpose of study. The modules were offered using the blended or online pedagogy. The students’ posting on the discussion forum was extracted and statistically analysed to determine whether it relates to success or performance in the modules. The study reported mixed results, where either participation or non-participation is related to student success. Student success comprises a variety of activities, for which participation by posting in online discussion forums forms part, however, it is not the only solution.