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Build engagement and interactivity in online discussion at Deakin University

Dan Hasan
July 5, 2021
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In the final year of an engineering course at the bachelor’s (honours) level, students undertake a year-long project which ends up with a final presentation and poster symposium in a conference setup. Due to the inability to carry out this poster conference face-to-face, the Discussion tool was chosen, allowing students to present, view, and comment on each other’s posters. In total, around 75 students uploaded their work and about three quarters of them actively contributed to discussions in the tool, writing about 2-4 comments each.

The Discussion on Work tool was used formatively to let students asynchronously peruse their peers in a less formal environment, aiming to remove some of the stress of a mandatory review. Additionally, the tool provided a suitable platform upon which to base the poster conference, allowing students to interact with each other and share their final work at the end of their degree.

Constructive alignment

Learning objectives

  • Students undertake a research project, learning about what is happening at the edge of their research field.
  • Students demonstrate an ability to communicate through various modes and media.

Learning activities

Throughout their final year in the engineering unit, students worked on their thesis projects, producing both a written report and video assignment which constitute the final grade they will receive. In addition, a final presentation is given by each student in the form of a poster which outlines their research and findings. This symposium would normally be held in a physical venue but this time round, an online platform was needed. To this end, the Discussion on Work tool was used to achieve the goal of allowing students to view each other’s work, and provide the opportunity for questions or comments to be posed. A rubric was not used as part of the activity as the intention was to keep it as open as possible, reflecting the nature of the face-to-face instance of such a symposium. Academic staff were also able to view students’ presentations although this was not the the primary intention.

Learning activities based on the Bloom taxonomy are mainly at the level of:

  • Analyzing the poster presentations of peers within the tool
  • Evaluating the content in peers’ presentations through discussion comment
  • Creating a poster presentation which summarises the findings of a research thesis

Assessment of learning outcomes

The poster presentation and use of Discussion tool was not graded. The intention was instead to provide students with a platform to view and discuss each other’s work at will, in a more informal activity setup.

Notable outcomes

  • The instructional designer remarked that the Discussion tool had been an effective “de facto presentation format”, allowing the symposium activity to continue online. However, it was noted this format would not provide the opportunity for the same sorts of discussions as face-to-face, and so this aspect was not forced.
  • The thumbnails of each student’s upload provided a visual cue which gave viewers an idea of each poster without having to open each one up.
  • The platform was found to be effective for stimulating a discussion among students, “They were willing to go out of their way and discuss with no pedagogic push”.
  • Despite it being an optional step, 16 students started additional open discussions within the tool, as a follow-up step after the initial poster-viewing activity.
"I really like the Discussion tool’s ability to give students the freedom to view and discuss each other’s work without the connotation of a summative assessment task; to give their opinions without the fear of strict assessment." - Catherine Fraser, Teaching Scholar, Course and Unit Design

The role of the instructor

  • The instructional designer setup the activity for the course by providing instructions inside the tool, choosing the “individual hand-in and individual discussion” option, and enabling the “open discussion” step.
  • The instructional designer, instructors, markers, and other support staff were able to view the students’ poster presentations inside the tool, as well as access downloadable data about each student’s performance (upload date, number of comments left, number of threads started).
"It’s such a great set of tools, I’m recommending FeedbackFruits to all my colleagues. That’s become my full-time job!" - Catherine Fraser, Teaching Scholar, Course and Unit Design

Added value of technology

Learning can be impeded by the lack of interaction between peers, as chances for communication and clarification become fewer. With tools such as Discussion on Work which promote collaboration and peer-to-peer interaction, classes can build up an online learning community, whereby questions are asked and answered without requiring face-to-face interaction. Giving students the chance to apprehend material together through activity setups which facilitate this option, is an essential component of effective digital pedagogy.

Possible variation

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