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CONSTRUCTING STUDENT KNOWLEDGE IN THE ONLINE CLASSROOM: THE EFFECTIVENESS OF FOCAL PROMPTS.

The purpose of this study was to examine the effect of Andrews' (1980) three Structured Divergent prompt designs. The Playground prompt, Brainstorming prompt, and Focal prompt were implemented in an online course to determine the impact of each prompt design on student knowledge construction. Sixty-five online graduate participants were a part of the study. Students' posts were analyzed using the Interaction Analysis Model (IAM), which categorizes written responses into five levels of knowledge construction: (1) sharing and comparing information, (2) identifying areas of disagreement, (3) negotiating meaning and co-construction of knowledge, (4) evaluation and modification of new schemas that result from co-construction, and (5) reaching and stating agreement and application of co-constructed knowledge. In addition, concept maps were analyzed to measure learning achievement. Descriptive statistics were used to assess both discussion posts and concept maps. Results indicate there are benefits to using the Focal Prompt coupled with concept mapping in the online classroom.

Literature Review

According to Andrews (1980). the form of the question affects the extent of the response within a discussion. Structured Divergent prompts are more productive in discussion than other types of prompts (Andrews, 1980). The Structured Divergent prompts include three specific types of prompts: the Playground prompt, the Brainstorming prompt, and the Focal prompt (Andrews, 1980). The Playground prompt focuses on "a promising sub-aspect of the material." such as a specific aspect of literature, history, or concept being studied (Andrews. 1980, p. 157). This prompt has boundaries in which to discuss, but the boundaries are wide. Andrews (1980) described Brainstorm prompts as those that generate ideas and solutions by encouraging students to discover different connections together, which produces collaboration. The Focal prompt involves a complex controversy with more than one possible solution, which forces students to choose an argument and prepare a supportive rational (Andrews, 1980). The Brainstorming and Focal prompts have proved to be particularly effective in encouraging student learning in the online classroom (Bradley, Thorn, Hayes, & Hay, 2008; Howell, Sutherlin, Akpanudo, James, & Chen, 2014).

Clariana, Wallace, and Godshalk (2009) noted that "understanding and measuring the progress of learning in complex domains is an important issue for instructional designers, instructors, and researchers" (p. 726). Although some assessments, such as essays. do not necessarily measure knowledge construction, concept maps can be used to assess knowledge constructed in response to the discussion board prompt.

Concept mapping is an authentic assessment technique that graphically displays student construction of knowledge of the subject matter by using lines to link relationships between concepts (Clariana & Engelmann. 2013, Clariana & Wallace, 2007; Ritchhart, Turner. & Hadar, 2008; Vacek, 2009). "Concept Maps consist of pairs of concepts joined by link lines with descriptive labels ... that indicate the relationship between pairs of concepts" (Clariana & Engelmann, 2013, p. 425). According to Vacek, (2009), mapping can encourage critical thinking. Clariana and Engelmann (2013) investigated metric centrality to measure knowledge demonstrated in concept maps done before, during, or after problem-solving activities.

This study seeks to determine the effect of Andrews' (1980) three Structured Divergent prompt designs coupled with concept mapping on student knowledge construction in an online graduate course.

Methods

Research Questions

The study addressed four research questions.

1. How do three Structured Divergent prompt designs (Playground prompt, Brainstorm prompt, and Focal prompt) influence knowledge construction?

2. How does the Playground prompt design influence knowledge construction?

3. How does the Brainstorm prompt design influence knowledge construction?

4. How does the Focal prompt design influence knowledge construction?

Participants

Sixty-five online graduate students attending a university in a south Atlantic state were the participants in this study. All graduate students were completing an instructional design course. One section of the course was identified as the experimental group while the second section of the course was identified as the control group.

Instrument

The Interaction Analysis Model (IAM) tool was used to investigate the online discussion posts. The IAM is based on constructivism and was designed to detect and understand knowledge construction during collaborative discussions (Saritas, 2006). The IAM was designed to categorize segments of online discussion posts into five levels of knowledge construction: sharing of information, differing viewpoints, compromising meaning and co-construction, modifying understanding, and agreeing upon a new understanding (Gunawardena, Lowe, & Anderson, 1997). See Appendix A.

Concept mapping consists of three rules: 1) students will write ideas in hierarchically arranged boxes, 2) students will link ideas with arrows showing the direction, and 3) although ideas are listed once, students can link the ideas multiple times (Ritchhart, Turner, & Hadar, 2008). An expert map for each topic of the discussions was developed. Students were required to participate in the discussion and then assigned to create a concept map to reflect their thinking. In order to understand concept maps, students were given examples of concept maps that were not related to the course. The students were given the following directions for the concept maps: a) create a blank concept map, b) use at least 10 supporting boxes, which are to be linked, and c) save and post the concept map. An example rubric was also included with the directions; however, the students were not limited to the rubric structure. See Appendix B.

Procedures

Three Structured Divergent prompts (Playground prompt. Brainstorm prompt, and Focal prompt) were implemented for the experimental group. Each type of prompt was presented in the discussion board for student response. An example of each type of Structured Divergent prompt as presented to students in the graduate online class is provided.

The following is an example of a Playground prompt used in this study:
This discussion board will be based on posted readings related to
Cognitivism Instructional Design Models: Advanced Organizers, Cone of
Experience, Information Processing, and Concept Mapping. Select one of
the Cognitivism ID Models you have been exploring. Describe how that
one model could be useful in your particular work situation to guide
planning.


The following is an example of a Brain-storm prompt used in this study:
This discussion board will be based on posted readings related to
Prescriptive Instructional Design Models: ADDIE, ASSURE, Dick and
Carey, and Robert Gagne. Select one of the Prescriptive ID Models you
have been exploring. Brainstorm some ways that model could be useful in
a work situation to guide planning.


The following is an example of a Focal prompt used in this study:
This discussion board will be based on posted readings related to
Constructivist Instructional Design Models: Discovery Learning, Inquiry
Teaching, Problem Based Learning, Project Method, and Observational
(Social) Learning. Select one of the Constructivist ID Models you have
been exploring. Construct an argument defending why the model of your
choice is most useful in a work situation.


After design of the prompts, a concept map was developed representing the concepts learned. The concept map offers an authentic assessment technique that displays student construction of knowledge of the subject matter.

Data Analysis

The Interaction Analysis Model (IAM) raters used an electronic recording system on an Excel spreadsheet to analyze discussion board prompt responses. The discussion board messages were coded in the order as they were written. When the raters coded the posts, some posts represented multiple codes. When a post contained multiple levels, the raters recorded the highest level (Dunlap, Sobel, & Sands. 2007; Gunawardena, Lowe, & Anderson, 2007). A t-test indicated the variance for the control group was 0.039. The variance for the Playground group was 0.144. The variance for the Brainstorm group was 0.050. The variance for the Focal group was 0.073.

Concept maps can be used to assess knowledge constructed in response to the discussion board prompt. A Pearson r correlation was conducted to determine the relationship of the student's map to the expert map. The data was recorded on an organizational matrix. The closer the correlations were to the expert map, the more knowledge construction was demonstrated for that group. After the Pearson r correlations were calculated, the scores were converted into z scores using the same type of matrix. Then, descriptive statistics and t tests compared each of the groups.

Results

This study aimed to determine whether the use of Structured Divergent prompts encouraged knowledge construction in students completing an online graduate course. In order to thoroughly address this study's purpose, four questions were answered by analyzing both concept maps and discussion posts.

The first research question addressed in this study was as follows: How do three Structured Divergent prompt designs (Playground prompt, Brainstonn prompt, and Focal prompt) influence knowledge construction? The discussion analysis revealed that there was a significant difference (p = 0.038) between the control group (Convergent prompts) and the experimental group (Structured Divergent prompts) when p < 0.05 (See Table 1).

The second research question addressed in this study was as follows: How does the Playground prompt design influence knowledge construction? The Playground Prompt did not indicate a significant difference between the control group and the experimental group (see Table 2). However, the concept map analysis did detect a significant difference between control group and experimental group for these prompt decisions. The Playground group's z scores were higher (0.157 [+ or -] 0.379) than the control group's z scores (-0.035 [+ or -] 0.197). The experimental group's mean score was -0.191 (95% CI, -0.350 to -0.033) higher than the control group's mean scores for the concept maps related to the Playground Prompt.

The third research question addressed in this study was: How does the Brainstorm prompt design influence knowledge construction? The Brainstorm Prompt did not indicate a significant difference between the control group and the experimental group (see Table 2). However, the concept map analysis did detect a significant difference between control group and experimental group for these prompt decisions. The concept maps related to the Brainstorming Prompt showed that the experimental group's z scores were significantly higher (0.324 [+ or -] 0.223) than the control group's z scores (-0.035 [+ or -] 0.197). The experimental group's mean score was -0.359 (95% CI, -0.462 to -0.256) higher than the control group's mean scores.

The fourth research question addressed in this study was: How does the Focal prompt design influence knowledge construction? For the Focal Prompt, the discussion posts revealed that there was a significant difference (p = 0.045) between the control group and the experimental group when p < 0.05 (see Table 2). The concept map analysis revealed that the experimental group's z scores were higher (0.148 [+ or -] 0.270) than the control group (-0.035 [+ or -] 0.197) for the Focal Prompt as well.

Discussion

Data findings of this study provided further evidence of the importance of prompt design in the online discussion board. The findings of this study are comparable to the findings of previous research studies. Among the three Structured Divergent prompts implemented, the Focal Prompt proved most effective in encouraging knowledge construction among online graduate students. The Focal Prompt requires students to engage with the content at a higher level by presenting a complex controversy with more than one solution. By requiring students to choose an argument and support the view point with a rationale, students were better able to construct knowledge as related to course content.

The use of concept maps along with all three types of Structured Divergent prompts. Playground, Brainstorming, and Focal, proved effective. Concept maps further the impact of prompt design by assessing the knowledge students have constructed. By using concept maps, an authentic assessment technique that graphically displays student construction of knowledge, students were better able to construct knowledge and present knowledge learned as related to the course concepts.

Conclusion

Online instructors and curriculum designers can use the results of this study to support student engagement and knowledge construction in the online classroom. The results of this study found that higher levels of knowledge construction were present only when using the Focal Prompt design. Through the use of Focal Prompt design, instructors can better ensure online students construct knowledge related to the presented concepts and topics. Furthermore, the integration of concept maps into the online discussion board further engages students and enables students to construct knowledge necessary to be successful in the online classroom.

References

Andrews, J. D. (1980). The verbal structure of teacher questions: Its impact on class discussion. Professional and Organizational Development Quarterly, 2(3-4). 129-163.

Bradley, M. E., Thorn, L. R., Hayes, J., & Hay. C. (2008). Ask and you will receive: How question type influences quantity and quality of online discussions. British Journal of Educational Technology, 59(5). 888-900. doi: 10.1111/j. 1467-8535.2007.00804.x

Clariana, R.B., Engelmann. T., & Yu, W. (2013). Using centrality of concept maps as a measure of problem space states in computer-supported collaborative problem solving. Educational Technology Research and Development. 61(3), 423-442. doi:10.1007/s11423-013-9293-6

Clariana. R. B., & Wallace. P. (2007). A computer-based approach for deriving and measuring individual and team knowledge structure from essay questions. Journal of Educational Computing Research. 37(3). 211-227. doi:10.2l90/ec.37.3.a

Clariana, R. B., Wallace, P. E., & Godshalk, V. M. (2009). Deriving and measuring group knowledge structure from essays: The etfects of anaphoric reference. Educational Technology Research and Development, 57(6), 725-737. doi:10.1007/s11423-009-9115-z

Dunlap, J. C. Sobel, D., & Sands. D. I. (2007). Supporting students' cognitive processing in online courses: Designing for deep and meaningful student-to-content interactions. Tech/rends: Linking Research and Practice to Improve Learning, 51(4), 20-31. doi:10.1007/s 11528-007-0052-6

Gunawardena. C. N., Lowe. C. A. & Anderson. T. (1997). Analysis of a global online debate and the development of an interaction analysis model for examining social construction of knowledge in computer conferencing. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 17(4), 397-431. doi:10.2190/7mqv-x9uj-c7q3-nrag

Howell, G., Sutherlin H., Akpanudo, U., James, L., & Chen, M. (2014). The Effect of Structured Divergent Prompts on Knowledge Construction. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 18(2), 49-63.

Ritchhart, R., Turner, T. & Hadar, L. (2008). Uncovering students' thinking about thinking using concept maps. Metacognition and Learning. 4(2), 145-159. doi:10.1007/s11409-009-9040-x

Saritas, M. T. (2006). Computer-mediated communication in higher education: An exploration of knowledge construction. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Dissertation and Theses @ Capella University. (Publication No. AAT 3243576).

Vacek, J.E. (2009. January). Using a conceptual approach with a concept map of psychosis as an exemplar to promote critical thinking. Educational Innovations. 48(1) 49-53. doi:10.3928/01484834-20090101-12.

APPENDIX A.

IAM CODING GUIDE

Each post was coded using the following codes:

1. Sharing/Comparing Information

a. Statement of observation/opinion

b. Statement of agreement

c. Supportive examples/comments

d. Asking/answering questions

e. Define/describe/identify problem

2. Dissonance or inconsistency among idea

a. Disagreeing

b. Asking/answering in concerns to disagreement

c. Restating position

3. Negotiation of meaning/co-construction of knowledge

a Negotiation or clarification of the meaning of terms

b. Negotiation of the relative weight to be assigned to types of argument

c. Identify areas of agreement

d. Proposal and negotiation of new statements showing compromise and co-construction

e. Metaphors or analogies

4. Testing/modifying synthesis or co-construction

a. Testing synthesis against shared responses

b. Testing against schema

c. Testing against experience

d. Testing against data

e. Testing against literature

5. Agreement statement(s)/applications of newly constructed meaning

a. Summarization of agreement(s)

b. Application of new knowledge

c. Metacognitive statements of participants illustrating understanding

APPENDIX B.

CONCEPT MAP RUBRIC

Main Topic

A. Subtopic

1. Characteristic OR Description

2. Characteristic OR Description

3. Characteristic OR Description

B. Subtopic

1. Characteristic OR Description

2. Characteristic OR Description

3. Characteristic OR Description

C. Subtopic

1. Characteristic OR Description

2. Characteristic OR Description

3. Characteristic OR Description

D. Subtopic

1. Characteristic OR Description

2. Characteristic OR Description

3. Characteristic OR Description

DR. GINGER S. HOWELL

Hazel den Betty Ford Graduate School of Addiction Studies

DR. MISTY M. LACOUR

Kaplan University

DR. PENNY A. MCGLAWN

Harding University
Table 1. Levels of knowledge construction

Group         Posts  Level 1  Level 2  Level 3  Level 4  Level 5

Control       102    85       12       2         3        0
Experimental   88    67        2       6        13        0

Group         Mean   SD

Control        1.25  0.636
Experimental   1.25  0.636

Table 2. Discussion Board Prompt Results: Experimental Group

Prompt      Posts  Level 1  Level 2  Level 3  Level 4  Level 5

Playground  30     26       2        2        1        0
Brainstorm  30     23       0        3        4        0
Focal       28     18       1        1        8        0

Prompt       Mean  SD

Playground   1.27  0.740
Brainstorm   1.60  1.13
Focal        1.96  1.14
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Author:Howell, Ginger S.; Lacour, Misty M.; McGlawn, Penny A.
Publication:College Student Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 22, 2017
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