Hennessy A and Frankum B
This study tracks students’ cognitive presence, social presence and teaching presence in a recently developed online course and compares student involvement in forums predetermined by faculty, to those determined by students themselves.
An on-line learning platform was used for a final learning opportunity in personal and professional development for medical students at a new medical school in Greater Western Sydney (Australia). Students were provided with prescribed forum content and had the opportunity to pose self-directed topics. This study details the extent of student involvement in the on-line learning opportunity, and the differences between the student involvement in the prescribed versus student-directed forums. Methods: Learning opportunities were provided by both nine predetermined topic (PT) forums, and by additional student-directed topic (SDT) forums. Participant performance was analysed by number of postings per forum (student and facilitator), and quality of the postings (students only), adjudged by case presentation (personal experience), referencing to the literature, and involvement in discussion (reflection of other student postings or posing challenges to other postings). The themes of SDT were assessed and analysed compared to the PT against 14 ethical principles. Results: There were 9 PT and 26 SDT topics and 903 postings (PT) and 505 (SDT) respectively, a 54% increase for SDT. The themes for the PT covered 9 ethical areas and for SDT, 14. There was a significant increase in case material (61% vs 36%, p<0.001) and student reflections/challenges (88% vs 78%, p< 0.001), but a significant decrease in referencing (34% vs 42%, p =0.012), for SDT compared with PT forums. Conclusion. The student-directed topics covered a broader range of topics to those predetermined, and were more likely to include case material and reflection on other student contributions, and less likely to refer to the literature.