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Student interactivity in distance learning: Using discussion boards in the Blackboard Learning System

Jennifer M DeFrance, Johnson & Wales University


To meet student needs, higher education institutions must evolve and adapt to changes in the external environment. Rising popularity of online courses, or distance learning, combined with changes in student demographics (Hansen, 1998) have caused many institutions to utilize technology to meet the diverse educational requirements of students. Technology allows for opportunities to promote student engagement in online courses, but very little research has been conducted to explore the impressions students have of the current methods being used. Technology is a tool; how it is used and presented can affect educational outcomes. This phenomenological study utilized focus groups to understand student perceptions of interactivity in distance learning. This methodology was innovative in its application. By utilizing online focus group methodology in a synchronous format, including visual attendance, the researcher ensured participants ( N = 15) were interacting in a social context. As research is developed around student learning and interactivity, educators can benefit from implementing new and innovative ideas into online courses. Active engagement and connections to the materials promote student success (Bandura, 1997) in educational settings, and this study sought to identify student impressions of the current instructional methods used to promote interactivity. Overall, focus group participant experiences differed based on individual expectations and abilities, instructor level of engagement in the course(s), and the manner in which interactivity was promoted within the course. Participants supported the concept of interactivity, but agreed that discussion boards, as they are currently used, are not the most effective method of promoting connections between and among students and instructors. To ensure that online courses are learner-centered higher education institutions need to include technology that is user-friendly and meets the needs of diverse student populations. As online learning becomes more prevalent in higher education this research could provide useful insights into the benefits of using interactive applications and inform course development. Effective learning takes place when faculty keeps learners actively involved, and institutions support a positive connection between interactivity and online learning (Webb, Jones, Barker, & Van Schiak, 2004). Research results will be important to students, as well as higher education faculty and curriculum committees.

Subject Area

Community college education|Educational technology|Higher education

Recommended Citation

DeFrance, Jennifer M, "Student interactivity in distance learning: Using discussion boards in the Blackboard Learning System" (2011). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI3449267.