Abstract—In an online learning environment, it is a challenging task to motivate learners to participate in online discussions. Specially, if they are beginners in a programme and have less experience in using Internet and computers, students are more reluctant to interact with others. A Massive Online Course (MOC) usually has thousands of participants and it is very important to develop a learning community which interacts, collaborates and shares during the learning process in such courses. Discussion forums are the immediate method of communication available to develop this virtual community. However, having facilities in an environment is not enough to create the community. In this paper, we are presenting a case study based on the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) of the Bachelor of Information Technology (BIT) which has a few thousands of registered students. The participation in the discussion forums of courses in the VLE is very poor irrespective of the number of students enrolled in each course. To study this situation, an analysis was carried out to find out causes for poor learner-learner interaction and some actions were taken to improve the situation in the VLE during the last few academic years. Structured discussions in a course, social interaction, recognition for participation and development of an FAQ page are some of those techniques. In this action research environment, we observed some positive developments as well as some actions that did not motivate student participation. We identified that the role of a facilitator is the most important factor according to the discussion statistics and qualitative analysis of messages during the last two academic years.
Index Terms—Virtual learning environment (VLE), discussion forums, facilitation, learner interaction, virtual community, motivation.
Authors are with University of Colombo School of Computing (UCSC) (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org).
Cite: K. P. Hewagamage, K. M. G. B. Nishakumari, and G. N. Wikramanayake, "Developing Online Virtual Community by Facilitating Student Discussions," International Journal of Information and Education Technology vol. 1, no. 4, pp. 303-308, 2011.