*Rajani Chandra Mohan, Premala Balasubramaniam & Indraselvi Pararajasingam
In the past ten years, asynchronous communication media such as Online Discussion Boards have been used widely in schools as well as in tertiary institutions. Simultaneously, pedagogical practice has leaned towards student-centred learning. As such, there is a need to investigate the role of an asynchronous communication medium such as the Blackboard Learning System in promoting a student-centred learning environment. This study aims to examine if online discussion boards are conducive for students to interact and engage in active learning which is a central concept of student-centred learning, derived from the constructivist approach. In this study, students of English as a Second language (ESL) studies in the South Australian Matriculation (SAM) programme participated in an online discussion without the intervention of the teacher in order to formulate a focus question (research question). Twenty-seven students in the treatment group individually presented their focus question and the scope of their research paper via a discussion thread. Using this medium, these students were expected to give critical comments on the effectiveness of their classmates’ research questions. A control group consisting of 23 students was required to conduct similar discussions by using a more traditional means of face-to-face communication to construct and refine focus questions. The final focus questions and discussion threads were evaluated. The data showed that students in the treatment group had a significantly higher number of good focus questions that allowed for sufficient discussion of the research topic with clearly defined keywords and a narrow scope for indepth study, when compared to the control group. Analysis of the discussion threads also indicated that students were able to respond critically and constructively using the online discussion board.
Keywords: Asynchronous learning, student-centred learning, online discussion board, focus questions