Students' satisfaction and perceived attainment in the use of an online discussion forum: A follow-up study in the OUHK

Henry M F Choi and Eva Y M Tsang
The Open University of Hong Kong

Hong Kong SAR, China

Online discussion forums are widely adopted both in distance learning courses and conventional face-to-face classrooms (Spatariu, Hartley and Bendixen 2004). It is generally believed that, with the aid of this online communication channel, knowledge can be critically constructed, validated and shared among learners and their teachers (Knauka and Anderson 1998). The Open University of Hong Kong (OUHK) has integrated an online learning components into its distance learning programmes since 1998, and the discussion forum is one of the major channels of communication between students and their tutors, apart from regular face-to-face tutorials. However, a number of internal studies show that the participation rates of both students and tutors in the discussion forum are far from satisfactory (e.g. Tsang et al. 2002; Choi 2006; Choi 2007).

In the past decade, a number of short online training courses and seminars have been conducted for course coordinators and newly appointed tutors in the OUHK, in order to promote the use of this online discussion tool. The present study is designed to examine students' perspectives on the use of the discussion forum after all these promotional efforts, especially their level of satisfaction and perceived attainment from the online discussion. The theoretical framework adopted in the study is the community of inquiry model (Garrison, Anderson and Archer 2000), which argues that learning through online conferencing occurs within an online community through the interaction of cognitive, social and teaching presence. The questionnaire for an earlier study in the Universuty (Choi 2007) will be modified for the present study. Data will be collected through an online survey, with all the current students in the OUHK being invited to participate in the study.

The purpose of the present research is two-fold. Firstly, it attempts to investigate the effectiveness of the use of the University's discussion forum, in terms of student satisfaction and their perceived attainment. Secondly, it aims to explore the reasons for the low participation rate in the online discussion tool, and propose possible strategies to enhance its use.