Title: Modeling and Assessing Online Discussions for Faculty Development


The problem


Although use of online discussions is frequently cited as evidence that technology is aiding the learning process, there is little data to support that claim.  Furthermore, there is

little evidence beyond anecdotal that faculty development workshops are successful. Staff from the University of Delaware teamed up with a researcher at the University of Pittsburgh to jointly participate in a workshop that allows faculty to experience online discussions within the context of a problem-based (PBL) learning workshop.


Description of Activity


There are two main phases in this study.  During phase one, faculty will participate in online asynchronous discussions to develop skills in facilitating collaboration and higher levels of thinking.  Through the workshop content, faculty will experience problem-based teaching and learning strategies that they can apply to their courses. 


At the workshop, faculty are divided into groups to work through a problem about increasing the quality of online postings.  The problem assumes that the faculty are team teaching an interdisciplinary course in Current Middle Eastern Issues and want their students to move from emotional responses to critical thinking. They meet in person and then separate and use the online discussions to propose strategies, find online resources, and develop questions to ask an expert in an online asynchronous discussion.  The expert in online discussions, Barbara Frey, from the University of Pittsburgh and the expert in PBL, GeorgeWatson, from the University of Delaware will provide additional probing questions and comments to identify assumptions, consider alternatives, or summarize major contributions.


The University of Delaware is recognized internationally as a leader in problem based learning. The workshop was initially developed by IT staff in conjunction with problem based learning experts at UD, but it has never actually been studied for participant reactions and subsequent impact. This fall Janet de Vry, University of Delaware, will facilitate the face-to-face course while Barbara Frey and George Watson will participate in the discussions to model effective online coaching, act as the experts in the discussions to give feedback, and provide a rubric for faculty to use when assessing student participation in their courses.


In phase two, the facililtators will analyze the quality of the online discussions and the feedback from faculty both immediately following the session and later in the semester. The online discussion postings will be analyzed with content analysis maps that diagram initial (or parent) postings and the participant responses that branch from the original assignment, question, or comment.  Our analysis will consider four qualities: (1) statements and the cognitive level of thinking according to Bloom’s Taxonomy, (2) questions, (3) affirmations or social comments, and (4) personal reflections.  We will analyze postings in order to identify strategies and content that were effective in developing rich threads of dialogue. 


After presenting the phases one and two, the presenters will invite participants to react to our data and provide suggestions regarding the structure and content of the workshop. The final step will be for participants to draw up an action plan for implementing online discussions or problem solving teaching strategies on their campus.