Williams, C. B., & Murphy, T. (2002). Electronic discussion groups: How initial parameters influence classroom performance. Educause Quarterly, 25 (4), 21-29.
Williams and Murphy describe an electronic discussion assignment used in a required introductory American Government course at Bentley College in Massachusetts. Students from three different sections of the course were placed into four different discussion groups.
Instructors used a hybrid model of course design with both face-to-face and online components. They chose online discussion because “e-discussion groups have been found to promote several important pedagogical values, including participation, interaction, involvement and equality” (p. 22). Online discussion encourages students to take a more active role in their learning and also increases student-to-student interaction. In-class discussions are controlled by the professor who frequently determines who speaks and who doesn’t. Online discussion allows for more people to participate and “reduces the participatory bias that continues to exist for minority, female, handicapped, and diffident students” (p. 22).
The authors assessed student perceptions of the e-discussion groups and found that overall students were slightly positive about the assignments. Williams and Murphy thought good was actually pretty good given that an introductory American Government course is “a requirement and typically draws a comparatively disinterested response on course evaluations” (p. 24).
After analyzing each section’s participation, Williams and Murphy concluded that regular deadlines for posting decreases tardiness. Also, students participated more enthusiastically when they got to choose the topics under discussion.
I had never heard of students from multiple sections participating in an online discussion and frankly, I don’t think the practice is feasible. Since this article was published in 2002, I’m not surprised that it didn’t offer much that I didn’t already know.