The effect of online discussion forums on student learning and student perception of learning in a science course at the community college level
Institutions of higher education are feeling the pressure to offer a greater number of courses through alternative methods of instructional delivery including hybrid and online courses in an attempt to meet the needs of their students. Among institutions of higher education, community colleges have become a forerunner in online education, in many cases incorporating the development of online education into the institution's strategic plan. To some educators, hybrid course offerings provide the best of face-to-face education with electronic transfer of information. One of the greatest challenges which exists in the development of a hybrid course is the development of instructional methodologies which utilize cooperative and active learning. All learning management systems utilized by institutions of higher education have some form of online discussion forum as a key component. Online discussion forums have been suggested as an effective pedagogical tool which requires both cooperative interaction amongst students while simultaneously requiring individual active reflection of knowledge. However, current studies have focused on the effectiveness of online discussion forums at the undergraduate and graduate levels. The aim of the current study was to determine the effectiveness of online discussion forums in an upper level science course at the community college level in terms of student satisfaction and student achievement. Analysis of the data acquired from this study determined that the incorporation of online discussion forums as well as individual written reflections as a post-reflective assignment effectively improved student achievement and understanding of scientific topics and concepts related to Microbiology. In addition, it was determined that the students' attitudes towards the online discussion forum as a cooperative learning experience were somewhat positive. Thus, it can be concluded that the incorporation of online discussion forums into courses at the community college level can be considered as an alternative pedagogical tool which can effectively improve student learning.