Sherblom, J. C., Withers, L. A., & Leonard, L. G. (2013). The influence of computer-mediated communication (CMC) competence on computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) in online classroom discussions. Human Communication, 16(1), 31-39.
The study presented in this article focused on five areas that might influence a student’s willingness and ability to participate in an online classroom discussion: knowledge, motivation, skill, apprehension, and communication medium. Knowledge refers to the ability to rapidly adapt to new technology. Skill involves the ability to express oneself using online conversational strategies in lieu of the social cues of face-to-face communication. Motivation refers to the drive to produce work online. Apprehension addresses students’ physical and emotional responses to participating in online discussions. Medium includes students’ impressions of the structure of the learning management system employed.
The method of collecting data was through an online survey of 104 questions given to 91 university students aged 18 to 25. The authors found that knowledge was the predictor with the greatest influence on student participation. Followed by skill, apprehension, and motivation to a lesser but still significant extent. Medium was found to have only a miniscule influence on respondents’ participation.
I found it difficult to understand the boundaries between the five areas that were tested. Knowledge and skill seemed to blend together in their description, and medium seemed like it could be a subcategory of knowledge. From its description, apprehension appeared to have a causal relationship with motivation. It would have been helpful to see examples of the survey questions used and how they were categorized. I also think that the authors should have emphasized that the answers to the survey questions only gathered information on how the participants felt they behaved in online discussions. The data collected could not represent their actual behavior in online class discussion boards.
Nevertheless, the discussion of the results of the study did contain interesting suggestions for increasing participation in online discussions whether or not the results of the study actually supported those suggestions. For knowledge, the authors advised that explicit discussions of communication strategies and practicing within the medium could be helpful to increasing student confidence. For skill, it is recommended to encourage students to post early and frequently, to multitask in more than one conversation, to acknowledge communications explicitly, to provide explicit feedback both positive and negative, and to set concrete deadlines for the participants to meet. To reduce the anxious feelings of apprehension, the authors suggest careful, gentle guidance by the instructor in introducing the medium of communication. Lastly, in order to increase student motivation, the authors recommend instructors build rapport with students by communicating their acceptance and awareness of their students’ contributions to discussions. Although medium did not appear from the survey results to have a strong effect on students’ willingness to participate in online discussions, the authors added that it could be helpful to provide students with a rationale for the selection of the particular medium for their online discussions.
By the conclusion of this article, it seemed to me that the authors were looking for a way to showcase their beliefs about how to increase participation in online discussions and worked backwards in developing the method of data collection that they employed in order to end up with the desired results. Their methods and data felt shaky, yet their suggestions for action appeared useful and seemed based more on common sense than rigorous research.