A Qualitative Analysis of Collaborative Online Learning Module Discussion Groups
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A qualitative study was undertaken to provide a richer understanding of how students engage and learn in a collaborative on line learning environment in order to inform future curriculum planning. Collaborative online learning modules (COLM) were created using Armstrong’s education planning framework, to deliver content in a third year medical school surgery clerkship. (Armstrong and Parsa-Parsi, 2005) The technique of constant comparative analysis associated with grounded theory was used to explore discussion threads from a years’ experience with a COLM module to better understand how students learn in this unique environment. Coding was performed in an open and iterative fashion, allowing revision of existing themes and development of new themes until saturation was reached. Just under 2300 discussion group comments were analyzed by two investigators. Focus group data for the same group of students was reviewed as a form of triangulation. The authors identified three general themes with associated sub-themes: ‘students identify learning issues’, ‘students resolve learning issues’ and ‘students collaborate’. Students engaged in COLMs consistent with the education framework which guided its development. They tended to limit discussions to lower order learning issues and to focus on solving the case specific problem in the COLM. Students learned in the COLM environment by reflecting on previous experience, identifying learning issues, reasoning out some issues and investigating others. Collaborative learning included social interactions, organizational activities, and commenting on each others’ comments. Collaboration was not always effective in improving learning and at times seemed to reinforce errors. Findings support Armstrong’s planning framework but provide insight for improvements. (Armstrong and Parsa-Parsi, 2005) The authors suggest strategies for future curriculum planners to promote learning and meaningful discussion when planning future COLM. The authors believe that qualitative analysis is a useful method of evaluation and improvement for new curricula.
asynchronous discussion groups
constant comparative analysis