Photo: Edwards School of Business

USask researcher awarded SSHRC funding to build more engaging online learning platforms

University of Saskatchewan (USask) researcher Dr. Shan Wang (PhD) has been awarded funding by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) to investigate how to improve online discussion forums for students on e-learning platforms.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, educational institutions have turned to online learning platforms as a strategy to continue program delivery when in-person meetings were limited, thus making the platforms an integral part of many student experiences.

“Learner engagement is one of the biggest challenges of online learning,” said Wang, principal investigator of the project and associate professor in USask’s Edwards School of Business. “Online discussion forums have the ability to alleviate the problem of lack of interaction and communication in the remote, asynchronous online learning environment.”

Wang stresses that many online education discussion forums are not fully developed and may not contain the same functionalities as those used in fields such as e-commerce.

The work will focus on demonstrating the academic value of short-form responses by students and instructors in online learning platforms by conducting a textual analysis of the responses and the participation rates of students.

“Short responses are defined as learners’ brief, non-substantive responses to online content in e-learning forums,” said Wang. “This content is considered to be low-quality participation in the prior online discussion forum literature, but our observation is that short response participation is a major participating behaviour.”

The team will then use the basis of these observations to make suggestions for functionality enhancements and platform improvement to the partner company.

Shan Wang’s research team, including professor Dr. Fang Wang (PhD) from Wilfred Laurier University, and associate professor Dr. Zhao Du (PhD) from Beijing Sport University, will work with EduWind, a company that specializes in building online platforms for educational institutions.

The project has been awarded a SSHRC Partnership Engage grant of $24,997. These grants support partnered research activities that will inform decision-making and meet the needs of a partner organization from the public, private or non-profit sector.

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