THE EFFECT OF USING PEER DISCUSSION, LEARNING JOURNALS AND QUESTION PROMPTS TO SUPPORT REFLECTION IN A DISTANCE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

Open Access
Author:
Lai, Ting-ling
Graduate Program:
Instructional Systems
Degree:
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Dissertation
Date of Defense:
May 12, 2006
Committee Members:
  • Dr Susan M Land, Committee Chair
  • Peggy Noel Van Meter, Committee Member
  • John David Popp, Committee Member
  • Jonathan P Mathews, Committee Member
  • Edgar Paul Yoder, Committee Member
Keywords:
  • Distance Learning
  • Question Prompts
  • Peer Discussion
  • Learning Journal
  • Reflection
Abstract:
The importance of supporting reflection in learning and problem-solving has been emphasized in education and professional development (Bloom, 1956; Brown, Bransford, Ferrara, & Campione, 1983; Dewey, 1933; Schon, 1983). Previous studies have reported the effectiveness of certain instructional strategies in supporting reflection, such as classroom discussions with instructor and peers (e.g., Van Zeen, 1997), learning journals (e.g., Jarvis, 2001; Moon, 1999), concept mapping (e.g., Fellows, 1994), and question prompts (Davis, 2000; 2003). These strategies support reflection through social interaction, thought articulation, engaging in retrospective review, and actively monitoring and evaluating the individual learning process. While online asynchronous discussion has been used extensively in distance learning environments, educators have found that merely exposing students to reflective activity, such as through social peer discussion, does not necessarily mean that students will engage in higher-order thinking or reflect effectively. Therefore, this study investigated the effect of using two types of instructional strategies?peer discussion and learning journals?and combined them with question prompts to support reflection in an online learning environment. A factorial design was employed. A total of 277 college students were recruited from a Web-based introductory course on energy and environment. All students participated in two weekly discussions that required them to post either journal entries or peer discussion messages before, during, and after lessons. In addition, these two main strands--journal writing and peer discussion--were further subdivided so that some student groups in each were provided with question prompts related to the lessons, while other groups were not. Thus, there were four different treatments: Journal entries with question prompts; journal entries without question prompts; peer discussion with question prompts; and peer discussion without question prompts. The discourse transcripts and unit exam scores were collected to measure the level of reflection, breadth of discourse, length of discourse, and comprehension exam scores. The discourse transcripts were analyzed using both qualitative and quantitative methods. The statistical results showed that students who wrote learning journals with question prompts had more keywords, longer messages, and better comprehension exam scores than students who wrote learning journals without question prompts. Also, students who wrote learning journals with question prompts had statistically significant higher reflection levels, more keywords, longer messages, and higher comprehension exam scores than students who had peer discussions with question prompts. A comparison of learning journals without question prompts and peer discussions without question prompts did not reveal significant findings, nor did a comparison of peer discussion without question prompts and peer discussion with question prompts. The study also revealed that the nature of the tools, the nature of the learning tasks, and the guidance that the students received fostered reflection in the distance learning environment. Additionally, students?selective use of question prompts may also affect students?metacognition and reflection level. Finally, study limitations are discussed and recommendations are made for further research.