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What Can Online Classes Contribute to Assessment?
Unformatted Document Text:  generally, we wanted to determine whether a teaching strategy based on active learning through discussion has positive effects on student learner outcomes. Early research on gender differences in online behavior sent a mixed message. Some pioneering studies (Herring 1993; Selfe and Meyer 1991) were pessimistic about the democratizing, gender-neutralizing potential of online communication. An apposite literature (Dubrovsky et al. 1991; Sproull and Kielser 1991) suggested otherwise. Yet a third perspective (Bhappu et al. 1997; Yates 1997; Postmes and Spears 2002) indicated that discussion behavior is heavily conditioned by group composition, with gender- balanced contexts producing greater leveling of differential attention and influence. Our own work supports this third view. Adapting a protocol developed by Henri (1992), we coded the rhetorical content of students’ online discussion statements (Pollock, Hamann, and Wilson 2005; see Appendix for coding protocol). Of particular interest were the determinants of dependent statements, those that signaled a response to (and interaction with) other group participants, as opposed to independent statements, contributions made without reference or response to others. In our online classes, students are grouped together in small discussion groups of about 8-10 students each, thus overcoming the problems of discussion often present in large classes. Furthermore, we did not require students to engage in a dialogue with each other for their structured discussions, meaning that the discussion behavior patterns we observed were not driven by student concern for grades. Gender composition of the discussion groups had intriguing effects on the incidence of dependent statements in online discussions. For men, gender composition had little effect. Dependent statements comprised about half of the average male- 11

Authors: Hamann, Kerstin., Pollock, Philip. and Wilson, Bruce.
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generally, we wanted to determine whether a teaching strategy based on active learning
through discussion has positive effects on student learner outcomes.
Early research on gender differences in online behavior sent a mixed message.
Some pioneering studies (Herring 1993; Selfe and Meyer 1991) were pessimistic about
the democratizing, gender-neutralizing potential of online communication. An apposite
literature (Dubrovsky et al. 1991; Sproull and Kielser 1991) suggested otherwise. Yet a
third perspective (Bhappu et al. 1997; Yates 1997; Postmes and Spears 2002) indicated
that discussion behavior is heavily conditioned by group composition, with gender-
balanced contexts producing greater leveling of differential attention and influence. Our
own work supports this third view. Adapting a protocol developed by Henri (1992), we
coded the rhetorical content of students’ online discussion statements (Pollock, Hamann,
and Wilson 2005; see Appendix for coding protocol). Of particular interest were the
determinants of dependent statements, those that signaled a response to (and interaction
with) other group participants, as opposed to independent statements, contributions made
without reference or response to others. In our online classes, students are grouped
together in small discussion groups of about 8-10 students each, thus overcoming the
problems of discussion often present in large classes. Furthermore, we did not require
students to engage in a dialogue with each other for their structured discussions, meaning
that the discussion behavior patterns we observed were not driven by student concern for
grades.
Gender composition of the discussion groups had intriguing effects on the
incidence of dependent statements in online discussions. For men, gender composition
had little effect. Dependent statements comprised about half of the average male-
11


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