Measuring the Quantity and Quality of Online Discussion Group Interaction

Nisbet, D (2004) Measuring the Quantity and Quality of Online Discussion Group Interaction. JeLit 1(2).

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This paper aims to explain the thinking behind the development of a tool to measure online discussion group interaction. The output parameters (results factors) relating to both quantity and quality of interaction are explained. Quantity metrics are relatively simple to establish and relate to measuring the number and length of initiated and response postings by both learners and tutors. Measuring quality of interaction clearly moves the researcher into a more qualitative domain. Earlier research at the Open University in the UK (Salmon, 2000) established a 5-step model of online interaction. Using definitions related to the different stages, this model is applied to evaluate interaction quality. The evaluation establishes a level in a continuum from basic access, through socialization and information exchange, to knowledge construction and finally to autonomous development. A comparative case analysis is provided to illustrate the application of the tool. On the basis of this initial study, input parameters (enabling factors) are tentatively postulated. These include aspects related to: [1] learning design and assessment, [2] tutor management and skill, [3] learner e-literacy skills and [4] peer-related learning. This research provides a contribution in deriving an approach to the examination and interpretation of the factors that enable e-Learners to engage in this type of e-encounter. It provides information for educators about the design of Virtual Learning Environments and the e-Literacy issues for the learners that use them.