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When to jump in: The role of the instructor in online discussion forums


Computers & Education Volume 49, Number 2, ISSN 0360-1315 Publisher: Elsevier Ltd


As asynchronous discussion forums become more prevalent in online and flexible-delivery modes of teaching, understanding the role that instructors play in student learning in these forums becomes an important issue. Whether the instructor chooses to lead discussions or to keep a low profile can affect student participation in surprising ways. In this study, we investigate how instructor participation rates, the timing of instructor postings (during or at the end of a forum) and nature of their postings (questions, answers or a mix of the two) relate to student participation and perception.Using archives containing over 40,000 postings to nearly 400 discussion forums, together with over 500 university evaluation survey responses collected over six consecutive semesters, we analysed student and instructor postings to discussion forums, student responses to university evaluation surveys, and instructor and student responses to surveys carried out as part of this project. We collected both quantitative and qualitative responses on how instructors believe they behave in discussion forums and compared these with statistical analysis of the forums, and then looked at how the instructors’ behaviour correlated with students’ participation and perceptions.We found that the way that instructors post to forums may influence students’ forum discussions and participation in unexpected ways. We show that instructors’ perceptions of how they teach online do not necessarily agree with our observations, and that intuitive measures such as the rate of student participation and the length of discussion threads are not necessarily good ways to judge the ‘health’ of discussion forums or the quality of learning taking place.


Mazzolini, M. & Maddison, S. (2007). When to jump in: The role of the instructor in online discussion forums. Computers & Education, 49(2), 193-213. Elsevier Ltd. Retrieved May 18, 2021 from .

This record was imported from Computers & Education on January 30, 2019. Computers & Education is a publication of Elsevier.

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