Importance of Peer Interactions in Higher Ed

Where does online learning fall short? Why don’t discussion boards alone help cut it for online communication? What “piece” is missing in online education that could remove distance from distance learning?

Something “Unnatural” about forced discussion boards

What most educators have come to know is that student-to-student communication is vital to learning. Teachers know that proper discussion, reflection, and sharing of ideas between a class of students is necessary for a full understanding of material. But what happens when students are no longer between the same walls of a classroom? What happens when the miracle of technology has allowed students who ordinarily cannot obtain higher education, can now receive education through an online institution?

The answer for many online courses is asynchronous communication. The majority of online courses require some sort of discussion board as the only requirement for peer-to-peer communication. The prompt typically goes as follows, “What are you thoughts on _____? Comment and respond to at least three other posts.” There’s something unnatural about forced commentary on another person’s view, especially when there’s no back-and-forth dialogue.

US News Education talks about the experience that most have with online discussion boards, “each of us had to write one researched post and then respond to two other people’s posts, also using research – made it seem more like an exchange of information than a true discussion.”

Students don’t just want to engage in a face-to-face discussion to learn, they need to.

Importance of Synchronous Dialogue

“Exchanging information” at different times of the day doesn’t cut it for online learning. Discussions–even debates, are done in real time. It allows for an in-depth conversation of difficult to understand concepts, back-and-forth banter, and possibly concluding to an agreed upon consensus. Synchronous interactions may even lead to a few friendships, a positive function of the education system that has seemed to have forgotten. US News Education follows, “Contrary to tales I’ve heard from other online students, my virtual classmates will not turn into lifelong Internet pen pals. In my case, at least, our online discussion board did little to create the kind of relationships you often find in face-to-face classrooms.”

Removing Distance from Distance Learning

So, what can be done to close this gap? Integrate real time, synchronous learning into the online education platform. This means live video conferencing for study groups. This means discussing material face-to-face with teachers. This means having a real time facilitated discussion with peers on a given subject manner, the same type of interaction online discussion boards attempt to adopt.

Online discussion boards can be helpful, but this communicative outlet alone is not enough for students. iQ Solutions implements features such as cloud based, HD video conferencing that supports up to 25 participants per meeting, and with no additional software or hardware needed. iQ offers a revolutionary platforms that incorporates everything a traditional education can provide, but extends beyond the walls of the classroom to encompass the broader aspects of academic collaboration. Find out how iQ revolutionizes online education by checking out our demo for educators here.

Devon Haynie, US News Education. http://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/making-the-online-grade/2013/11/08/benefits-drawbacks-of-online-class-discussion-boards