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Does the discussion help? The impact of a formally assessed online discussion on final student results


Dr Stuart Palmer, Institute of Teaching and Learning, Deakin University, Geelong, Victoria, 3217, Australia. Tel: +613 5227 8143; fax: +613 5227 8129; email:


While there is agreement that participation in online asynchronous discussions can enhance student learning, it has also been identified that there is a need to investigate the impact of participation in online discussions on student course performance. This paper presents a case study based on an undergraduate engineering management unit employing a formally assessed online discussion area. It was observed that while many students read a significant number of discussion postings, generally, the posting of new and reply messages occurred at the minimum level required to qualify for the assignment marks. Based on correlation and multiple regression analysis, it was observed that two variables were significantly related to a student's final unit mark—prior academic ability and the number of new postings made to the online discussion. Each new posting contributed three times as much to the final unit mark as its nominal assessment value, suggesting that the work in preparing their new discussion postings assisted students in the completion of a range of assessable tasks for the unit. The number of postings read was not significantly correlated with the final unit mark, suggesting that passive lurking in this online discussion did not significantly contribute to student learning outcomes.