Exploring the Relationships between Facilitation Methods, Students’ Sense of Community and Their Online Behaviours

Krystle Phirangee, Carrie Demmans Epp, Jim Hewitt


The popularity of online learning has boomed over the last few years pushing instructors to consider the best ways to design their courses to support student learning needs and participation. Prior research suggests the need for instructor facilitation to provide this guidance and support, whereas other studies have suggested peer facilitation would be better because students might feel more comfortable learning and challenging each other. Our research compared these two facilitation methods and discovered that students participated more in instructor-facilitated online courses where they wrote more notes, edited and reread notes more, and created more connections to other notes than students in peer-facilitated courses. We identified student activity patterns and described differences in how those patterns manifest themselves based on the facilitation method that was used. Our findings also show that instructor-facilitated courses had a stronger sense of community than peer-facilitated courses.


Online learning, community, facilitation methods

Full Text:



Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2013). Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States. Sloan Consortium. Newburyport, MA, USA.

Angelino, L. M., Williams, F. K., & Natvig, D. (2007). Strategies to Engage Online Students and Reduce Attrition Rates. Journal of Educators Online, 4(2), n2.

Arend, B. (2009). Encouraging Critical Thinking in Online Threaded Discussions. The Journal of Educators Online, 6(1), 1-23.

Baker, R. S. J. D., & Yacef, K. (2009). The State of Educational Data Mining in 2009: a Review and Future Visions. Journal of Educational Data Mining, 1(1), 3—17.

Baran, E., & Correia, A. P. (2009). Student-led facilitation strategies in online discussions. Distance Education, 30(3), 339-361.

Bolliger, D. U., & Inan, F. A. (2012). Development and validation of the online student connectedness survey (OSCS). The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 13(3), 41-65.

Brooks, C., Demmans Epp, C., Logan, G., & Greer, J. (2011). The Who, What, When, and Why of Lecture Capture. In International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge (LAK) (pp. 86—92). Banff, Canada: ACM.

Brooks, C., Erickson, G., Greer, J., & Gutwin, C. (2014). Modelling and quantifying the behaviours of students in lecture capture environments. Computers & Education, 75, 282—292.

Fakhraie, N. (2011). What’s in a Note? Sentiment Analysis in Online Educational Forums (Unpublished master’s thesis). University of Toronto. Available from: T-Space https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/30086/1/Fakhraie_Seyedeh_Najmeh_201111_MA_thesis.pdf

Ferguson, R., & Buckingham Shum, S. (2012). Towards a social learning space for open educational resources. In A. Okada, T. Connolly, & P. J. Scott (Eds.), Collaborative Learning 2.0: Open Educational Resources (pp. 309—327). IGI Global.

Bull, S., Greer, J. E., McCalla, G. I., & Kettel, L. (2001). Help-seeking in an asynchronous help forum. In International Conference in Artificial Intelligence in Education (AIED). Retrieved from http://users.sussex.ac.uk/~bend/aied2001/bull.pdf

Carr, S. (2000). As distance education comes of age, the challenge is keeping the students. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 4 (23) A39-A41.

Conrad, D. (2005). Building and maintaining community in cohort-based online learning. Journal of Distance Education, 20(1), 1—20.

Correia, A. P., & Baran, E. (2010). Lessons learned on facilitating asynchronous discussions for online learning. Educação, Formação & Tecnologias-ISSN 1646-933X, 3(1), 59-67.

Creswell, J. W., & Clark, V. L. P. (2011). Designing and Conducting Mixed Methods research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage publications.

Ertmer, P. A., Richardson, J. C., Belland, B., Camin, D., Connolly, P., Coulthard, G., Lei, K., & Mong, C. (2007). Using peer feedback to enhance the quality of student online postings: An exploratory study. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(2), 412-433.

Fowler, F. J. (2009). Survey research methods (4th ed). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.

Gallagher-Lepak, S., Reilly, J., & Killion, C. (2009). Nursing student perceptions of community in online learning. Contemporary Nurse: A Journal for the Australian Nursing Profession, 32, 133—146.

Glesne, C. (2011). Becoming Qualitative Researchers: An Introduction. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc

Gray, D. (2014). Barriers to online postsecondary education crumble: Enrollment in traditional face-to-face courses declines as enrollment in online courses increases. Contemporary Issues in Education Research (CIER), 6(3), 345-348.

Gunawardena, C. N., Lowe, C. A., & Anderson, T. (1997). Analysis of a global online debate and the development of an interaction analysis model for examining social construction of knowledge in computer conferencing. Journal of educational computing research, 17(4), 397-431.

Hammond, M. (1999). Issues associated with participation in online forums–The case of the communicative learner. Education and Information Technologies, 4, 353—367.

Hara, N., & Kling, R. (2001). Student distress in web-based distance education. Educause Quarterly, 24(3), 68-69.

Hew, K. F. (2015). Student perceptions of peer versus instructor facilitation of asynchronous online discussions: further findings from three cases. Instructional Science, 43(1), 19-38.

Hiltz, S.R., & Arbaugh, J.B. (2003). Improving quantitative research methods in studies of asynchronous learning networks (ALN). In J. R.

Bourne & J.C. Moore (Eds.), Elements of quality online education. Practice and directions (pp. 59-72). Needham, MA: Sloan-C.

Hulon, S. (2013, March). Face-to-Face Discussions versus Online Threaded Discussions: Can We Have The Best of Both Worlds?. In Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education International Conference (Vol. 2013, No. 1, pp. 577-582).

Kizilcec, R. F., Piech, C., & Schneider, E. (2013). Deconstructing Disengagement: Analyzing Learner Subpopulations in Massive Open Online Courses. In International Conference on Learning Analytics and Knowledge (LAK) (pp. 170—179). New York, USA: ACM.

Larson, B. E., & Keiper, T. A. (2002). Classroom discussion and threaded electronic discussion: Learning in two arenas. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 2(1), 45-62.

Light, P., Nesbitt, E., Light, V., & White, S. (2000). Variety is the spice of life: student use of CMC in the context of campus-based study. Computers & Education, 34(3), 257—267.

Liu, X., Magjuka, R. J., Bonk, C. J., & Lee, S. (2007). Does sense of community matter? Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 8, 9—24.

Nully, D. D. (2008). The adequacy of response rates to online and paper surveys: what can be done?. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 33(3), 301-314.

Ouzts, K. (2006). Sense of community in online courses. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 7, 285—296.

RapidMiner. (2014). (Version 5.3.015). RapidMiner Inc. Retrieved from https://rapidminer.com

Richardson, V. (2003). Constructive Pedagogy. Teachers College Record, 105(9), 1623-1640

Rovai, A. P. (2002a). Building sense of community at a distance. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 3(1).

Rovai, A.P. (2002b). Development of an instrument to measure classroom community. Internet and Higher Education, 5, 197- 211.

Rovai, A. P., & Wighting, M. J. (2005). Feelings of alienation and community among higher education students in a virtual classroom. The Internet and Higher Education, 8(2), 97-110.

Shackelford, J. L., & Maxwell, M. (2012). Sense of Community in Graduate Online Education: Contribution of Learner to Learner Interaction. International Review of Research in Open & Distance Learning, 13(4).

Song, L., & McNary, S.W. (2011). Understanding Students’ Online Interaction: Analysis of Discussion Board Postings. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 19(1), 1-14.

Swan, K. (Ed.). (2009). Threaded Discussion. Encyclopedia of Distance Learning (2nd ed., Vols. 1-4). Kent State University, USA: IGI Global.

Witten, I., & Frank, E. (2005). Data mining: practical machine learning tools and techniques (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Morgan Kaufman.

Zembylas, M. (2008). Adult learners’ emotions in online learning. Distance Education, 29(1), 71-87

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.24059/olj.v20i2.775

Copyright (c) 2016 Online Learning Journal