Did socially engaged students make more cognitive contribution?

I and my colleague Yu‐Hui Chang (University of Minnesota, LT media lab)’s original article in the British Journal of Educational Technology (BJET), ‘The relationships between social participatory roles and cognitive engagement levels in online discussions’, can now be read freely online until 31 August on Wiley Online. This is one of my three-dissertation. 

We examined students’ social interaction and cognitive engagement in a graduate-level online course, ‘Online Learning Communities’, offered at a research university in the midwestern United States. There were two types of online discussions in this course: the instructor-designed/facilitated discussion, and the student-designed/facilitated discussion. The instructor and student teams designed discussions and learning activities, provided readings and resources, and proposed prompting questions in discussions to drive student thinking, inquiry, and reflection. The data for this study were content from online discussion posts and comments.

Applying a validated social network analysis method (Ouyang and Scharber 2017), this study identified six student participatory roles (leader, starter, influencer, mediator, regular and peripheral) in terms of their levels of participation, influence and mediation. Adapted from the ‘speaking variables’ coding scheme (Wise et al 2014), students’ cognitive engagement was classified according to three levels of knowledge inquiry (superficial, medium and deep levels) and three levels of knowledge construction (superficial, medium and deep levels).

Results indicated that students’ social participatory role was a critical indicator of their cognitive engagement level. Compared to inactive students, socially active students made more contributions to knowledge inquiry and knowledge construction. Furthermore, students had a tendency to keep social-cognitive engagement patterns. This result echoed with an undesired learning phenomenon called a ‘rich club’: active students who built rich peer-connections from the beginning were more likely to build capacities to spread and receive ideas. In contrast, inactive students who failed to build up connections from the beginning would find it difficult to build reciprocity in the interactions, and to make cognitive contributions, later.

However, there were exceptions. While several students were normally ‘peripheral students’ throughout discussions, they also, as designers and facilitators of some discussions, demonstrated leader roles to actively engage in discussions. Therefore, empowering students to take leadership roles could help them break down ‘rich club’ phenomena, build peer connections and enhance cognitive engagement. Instructors can encourage student to engage in top-level planning, decision-making and learning coordination.

A blog was published by British Educational Research Association (BERA), check it out at https://www.bera.ac.uk/blog/did-socially-engaged-students-make-more-cognitive-contribution

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