A Study of Factors and Perceptions that Mediate Student Participation in Supplementary Discussion Forums

Shaw, Erin (2019). A Study of Factors and Perceptions that Mediate Student Participation in Supplementary Discussion Forums. EdD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.00010312


In higher education in a campus setting, student participation in even voluntary discussion forums can benefit both student and instructors. In engineering education, the benefits of collaborative discussion are particularly important. This thesis had two goals—to identify factors that influence student participation in supplementary class discussion forums, and to explore perceptions that students and instructors have about their class forums. The study took place at a large university in the United States. Six instructors and 369 students from nine computer science and engineering courses participated in the study.

The first goal of the study was to identify facilitatory and inhibitory factors that mediate a student’s decision to participate or, conversely, not to participate, in a voluntary class discussion forum. Students were surveyed using the Forum Participation Mediator Instrument, which was developed for this study, that encompassed participation motivation, forum satisfaction, and help-seeking preferences. An exploratory factor analysis of student responses identified six components that characterized different mediators of participation—“engaged socially”, “urgent need”, “seek affirmation”, “lack confidence”, “view negatively”, and “do not prefer”. Multivariate analyses of variance showed that the components varied with respect to the students’ gender, class levels and subject majors. Multiple regression analysis showed that message posting frequency was significantly explained by student help-seeking preference, help urgency, grade point average and, most significantly, the class instructor.

The second goal of the study was to investigate students’ and instructors’ perception of their class forums. A sentiment analysis of student responses to open-ended survey questions showed that, despite a negative perception of peer interaction, students overwhelming perceived the use of forums as positive. A thematic analysis based on interviews with six instructors resulted in five themes—"examples of use”, “instructor participation”, “forum use policies”, “perceptions of students”, and “support of students”. These defined two important instructional narratives, managing discussion and motivating discussion, which were supported by an existing analytical framework.

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