More Than Words: Investigating the Format of Asynchronous Discussions as Threaded Discussions or Blogs

Feb. 15, 2013

Source: Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, Volume 29, No. 1, p. 4-13 (2012)
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this study, the authors examined how they structure their classroom discourse —discussion boards versus blogs— in two online classes and whether the structures of these discussions affected the type of learning community the students experienced.

The study was conducted during a fully online Teacher as Leader master’s program at a medium-sized university in the U.S. Midwest.
The two courses that we studied were taught through the university’s Blackboard system.

Data were collected through online surveys and discussion board posts and blogs written by the students during the courses.


The findings revealed that the format of the discussions altered the patterns of discourse, affected student engagement, and contributed differently to the development of learning communities.
It was found that the discourse in the discussion board was much more academic and school oriented, but also more collaborative.
Often, discourse is teacher controlled, with short bursts of student contribution.
The threaded discussions tended to replicate this rigid back-and-forth interaction, as it was directly tied to the content of the class.

Students’ interactions were clearly focused around the content and learning the knowledge associated with assessment and evaluation.
A knowledge- based community has the function of coming together to learn a new body of knowledge, where each member contributes to this understanding in a collaborative way.

Although this is an effective type of learning community, it may be less satisfying compared to the more social type of learning community that showed up in the blog groups.
The community created as a result of the blog conversations was less collaborative but more personal.
The students using blogs also added photos and videos.
They responded that they felt more engaged and more satisfied as a result of these discussions, although on the surface these discussions were less academic.
They personalized their blogs in ways that the threaded discussions, which were all text based, could not.
The students who used blogs engaged in these long, thoughtful discussions, which—while they were not always collaborative and academic—were definitely lengthier.

The blog discussions were characterized by one student sharing long opinions and usually making personal connections to the topic, with other students sharing their personal stories in relation to the initial post.
It would make sense that the social structure of the language of social media might influence the way students interact in a blog setting.
Students may find that the blogs released them from the typical participation structures found in classroom discussions and allowed them to broaden the way they converse with others in an online class setting.
The students who used the blogs did feel a greater satisfaction with the community and engagement as a result of using the blogs.


The authors feel that examining online pedagogy is particularly important as more of us involved in teacher education become engaged in online teaching.
Through this study, they began to see how altering the format of asynchronous discussion affected both the discursive practices that were embodied as well as the type of learning community that was established.

Finally, the authors share implications for teaching:
- Varying the format of discussion within a course.
- Affirm a sense of community.
- Be explicit with students about the type of community that is being created.
- Engage students in purposeful reflection.
- Provide exemplars as models.
- Explore paradigms of mental models and discursive styles.

Updated: Sep. 09, 2015