Undoubtedly, the E-forum has emerged as effective tool offering an ingenious way of engaging students beyond the classroom. Essentially, an e-forum is a platform that allows students to post their messages to discussion threads, interact and receive feedback from their instructors and colleagues, and acquire an in-depth understanding of their study subjects (Balaji and Chakrabart, 2010). That was more so the case with international students who engage in distance learning, though it was also applicable to any other student.
E-forum instructional tools can address the communication impediments in face-to-face lectures, thereby, providing a forum for argumentative engagement with a collaborative discourse (Karacapilidis as cited in Balaji and Chakrabart, 2010). To most students, the online environment is less intimidating, less prone to a single participant’s dominance and less bounded by convention (Redmon as cited in Balaji and Chakrabart, 2010). Online discussions offer students the flexibility of place and time in order to reflect on past postings to the discussion thread; thus actively engaging them in meaningful and intellectual experiences. Active teaching methods that embrace learning by active experimentation and reflective thinking foster high student participation (Biggs as cited in Balaji and Chakrabart, 2010).
The increased usage of e-forums in international education brings about the need an increased understanding on how to best incorporate this application into teaching (Harris & Sandor, 2008). More academics are incorporating e-forums in their curricula delivery. E-forums are thus powerful learning tools if students actively engage with them. However, the best approach on incorporating e-forums remains modest amongst most academics. Whatever approach, it is imperative that strategies incorporating these forums remain pedagogically sound (Harris & Sandor, 2008).
Online discussions are valuable in various ways. They promote active participation in communication by students (Im & Lee as cited in Gachago and Seleka, 2005). They also lead to cognitive development (ibid). Markel (as cited in Gachago and Seleka, 2005) asserts that they afford students with time to reflect prior to contributing to discussions. Besides being enjoyable, online discussions enhance social interaction thereby motivating membership and participation (Gachago and Seleka, 2005).
For e-forums to be effective there is need for active student participation. Mason (2011) defines participation in e-forum discussions as the process of actively engaging educators and learners in on-line based communication with each other. One essential condition for building effective e-forums is carefully establishing and organizing online activities. Other necessary considerations are; time required by students to effectively participate in e-forums, how critical a discussion is to the learning objective(s), and the importance of creating guidelines for the quality/level of participation that is required of the student(s) (Edelstein and Edwards as cited in Gachago and Seleka, 2005). The availability of a student community to enhance participation and the tutors’ role in feedback and support in moderating and promoting this community are other contributory factors to successful e-forums (Gachago and Seleka, 2005).
However, limited accesses to technology and computer illiteracy are major limitations to widening the reach of eLearning. The lack of student IT skills is a major barrier to equitable participation in online discussions (Oberprieler as cited in Gachago and Seleka, 2005). Thus, student participation in e-forums has not been satisfactory as anticipated and in light of the numerous benefits attached to it (Balaji & Chakrabart, 2010).
The problem addressed in this paper was low participation in online discussion forum among international students comparing with a native speaker could impact their learning process. Even though some studies show that the e-forum improves the quality of the learning experience as students enhance their responsiveness. However, in order to gain knowledge in online classes, students need to participate actively in online discussions (Yukselturk, 2010). Participating in class discussion will let the students think critically on the discussion topic so; the topic will be easily understood. They failed to understand that their participation is vital which will lead to an improvement in their critical thinking as well as learning (Balaji, 2010). The paper will address the hindrances that interfere with engagement of international students in e-forums and why it was necessary for students to participate.
Low participation in online discussions can influence student’s outcome quality with a possible long-term negative impact on them. As such, information sharing through e-forums can improve the students’ in understanding, memorizing and utilizing. Online discussions between students and teachers can help students to gain and apply information shared (Gachago & Seleka, 2005). On the contrary, low participation in online discussion can make it hard for instructors to understand the weaknesses their international students. As Cheong and Hew (2008) observed, it is important for faculty to understand students’ weaknesses in order to modify lessons based on that.
The first deficiency which played a major role is cultural differences between Eastern and Western students. Eastern students are used to highly structured instruction whereas United States of America has less structured instructions (Joo Yoo & David Huang, 2011). In the previous study the main focus was on Chinese culture but this paper is going to study international students from India, Middle East, and Bangladesh. The second deficiency is the language proficiency among international students. The language barriers make it difficult for international students to comprehend the assigned reading and then they face writing difficulty to involve in discussion (Yildiz, 2003). The previous study has been conducted on a small group and did not study the gender impact in the problem. In the study herein, a larger group and gender differences will be considered. Understanding these gaps from students and faculty is the first step toward improving the online discussion proficiency. Thus, this study seeks to extend on previous research by filling these existing gaps.
Significance for Audience
Redmon (as cited in Balaji and Chakrabart, 2010) asserted that online discussions offer students the flexibility of place and time in order to reflect on past postings to the discussion thread; thus actively engaging them in meaningful and intellectual experiences. Thus, this study will provide students with an understanding on how low participation can affect their understanding of course content. As observed by Harris & Sandor (2008), whatever the approach, it is imperative that strategies incorporating e-forums into teaching and learning remain pedagogically sound. Thus, through this study, instructors will be highlighted on the issues behind low participation in e-forum discussions in order to employ the necessary interventions to address them. Harris and Sandor (2008) also observed that the increased usage of e-forums in international education brings about the need an increased understanding on how to best incorporate this application into teaching and learning. Therefore, propositions from this study will be resourceful to both students and their instructors in figuring out sustainable strategies to enhance e-forum discussions for better academic outcomes.
Purpose of the Research
The purpose of this study is to evaluate the problem of low participation in e-forums among international students by relating the independent variable (e-forum) to the dependent variable (participation). And towards this end, the following research questions are formulated.
- What hindrances interfere with engagement of international students in e-forums?
- How does participating in e-forums help international students to think critically on the discussion topic?
- What strategies can be adopted to increase international student participation in e-forums?
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Cheong, W., Hew, K. (2008). Attracting student participation in asynchronous online discussions: A case study of peer facilitation. Computers and Education, 51 (3), pp.1111- 1124.
Gachago, D., Seleka, G. (2005). Experiences with international online discussions: Participation patterns of Botswana and American students in an Adult Education and Development course at the University of Botswana, International Journal of Education and Development using Information and Communication Technology (IJEDICT), 1 (2), pp. 163-184.
Harris, N., Sandor, M. (2008). Student views on participation and interaction in student centered online discussion forums. ASCLITE, pp 25-59.
Mason, R. (2011). Student Engagement with, and Participation in, an e-Forum. Educational Technology & Society, 14 (2), 258–268.