"Comparing participation in computer-mediated and traditional discussions in a undergraduate behavioural sciences statistics course: An exploratory study"
Malinda Desjarlais, Mount Royal University
Most students completing psychology degrees are required to complete at least one statistics course as part of their program of study. Anecdotally, psychology students' anxiety surrounding statistics tends to negatively impact their participation in class discussions. This is problematic since class participation may facilitate the development of problem-solving skills (Garside, 1996; Jones, 2008). In an exploratory study to address this problem, 11 undergraduate students in an introductory statistics class for psychology majors (41% of the class) provided permission for their coursework to be included in the current study which compared participation rates between (a) four structured anonymous computer-mediated discussions and (b) four structured in-class face-to-face traditional discussions of statistical concepts. Records of participants' comments were kept and after each discussion participants were asked to provide reasons for why they did not share any thoughts they may have had related to the assigned discussion question. Participants made more comments during the computer-mediated than the traditional discussions. However, this seems to be due to students' willingness to share repetitious information during the computer chats whereas many of the students commented that they didn't participate during the traditional discussions because another person had already shared their answer. Among the eight participants who shared their opinions regarding the discussions, they were evenly split regarding which of the discussions they enjoyed more, three indicated feeling more comfortable sharing comments during the computer-mediated discussions, and five indicated that the traditional discussions contributed to their learning more. Additional analyses regarding the content of the shared information is currently being completed and will be ready for inclusion on the poster. Based on the current study, although computer-mediated communication may increase participation rates for discussion this does not necessary enhance problem-solving skills which is one of the goals of engaging undergraduate students in discussions. Analyses of the content of the comments shared will provide further insight into the students' knowledge and learning of the concepts. However, based on the students' reflections it seems that traditional discussions may still be a better method (and prefered) for learning about statistics.
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