|Australasian Journal of Educational Technology
2010, 26(1), 123-132.
Examining facilitators' habits of mind in an asynchronous online discussion environment: A two cases study
Wing Sum Cheung and Khe Foon Hew
Nanyang Technological University
Asynchronous online discussion has been widely used by faculty members and students in schools and universities. Previous research has examined how factors such as the discussion activity, knowledge about the discussion topic, and the behaviour of other participants can affect learner participation. This study explored student facilitators' influence in promoting learners' participation in terms of their exhibited habits of mind. The following habits of mind of the facilitators were examined: (a) awareness of own thinking, (b) accurate and seeks accuracy, (c) open minded, (d) taking a position when the situation warrants it, and (e) sensitive to other. A two-cases study methodology approach was used in this study. The habits of "awareness of own thinking" and "open minded" were found to be exhibited more often by the student facilitators in the two cases. When we zoomed into the top 30% of the forums in terms of learners' participation, we also found that the frequency of habits of mind, "awareness of own thinking" and "open minded", were exhibited more often by the facilitators.
While an asynchronous online discussion environment can foster certain benefits, we agree with Cheung and Hew (2008) that such benefits can only be realised if students are willing to take part in the discussion. Many studies have been conducted to find out what factors that could affect the participation rate of students in an asynchronous online discussion environment (e.g., Hew, Cheung & Ng, 2009). These factors include the design of the discussion activity (Guzdial & Turns, 2000; Poscente & Fahy, 2003; Master & Oberprieler, 2004; Dennen, 2005), participants' knowledge about the discussion topic (Fung, 2004; Hewitt, 2005), and the behaviour of other participants (Feenberg, 1987; Bodzin & Park, 2000; Hewitt & Teplovs, 1999; Jeong, 2004; Zhao & McDougall, 2005). In recent years, we found some research studies which examined how student facilitators' facilitation skills may influence the online discussion (Chan, Hew & Cheung, 2009; Ng, Cheung & Hew, 2009). We believe that even though the facilitators need to have the appropriate facilitation skills, it is equally important that they also have the appropriate habits of mind to facilitate the asynchronous online discussions. In this study, we explore the habits of mind of the facilitators in an asynchronous online discussion environment.
First, what are habits of mind? Habits of mind may be defined as the natural tendency of an individual to act and think when he or she faces an issue or a problem (Costa & Kallick, 2000; Marzano et al., 1993). In simple words, habits of mind refer to the affective dimension of thinking (Neo & Cheung, 2007). While some scholars used the term habits of mind (Marzano, Pickering & McTighe, 1993; Costa & Kallick, 2000), others have used other terms such as habits of thought (Dewey, 1933), and thinking dispositions (Ennis, 1987; and Facione, Sanchez, Facione,& Gainen, 1995). Despite the various names used, a closer examination of the terms suggests that they are quite similar in spirit (Tishman, 2000).
There are currently two major proponents of habits of mind. They are Marzano, Pickering and McTighe (1993), and Costa and Kallick (2000). Marzano, Pickering and McTighe (1993, pp. 88-93) suggested 15 habits of mind: aware of own thinking, makes effective plans, aware of and use necessary resources, evaluate the effectiveness of own actions, sensitive to feedback, accurate and seeks accuracy, clear and seeks clarity, open minded, restrains impulsivity, takes a position when situation warrants it, sensitive to the feelings and level of knowledge of others, engages intensely in tasks even when answers or solutions are not immediately apparent, pushes the limits of own knowledge and ability, generates trusts, maintains own standards of evaluation, and generates new ways of viewing a situation outside the boundaries of standard convention.
Costa and Kallick (2000), on the other hand, proposed 16 habits of mind: persisting, managing impulsivity, listening with understanding and empathy, thinking flexibly thinking about your thinking, striving for accuracy and precision, questioning and problem posing, applying past knowledge to new situations, thinking and communicating with clarity and precision, gathering data through all senses, creating, imagining, and innovating, responding with wonderment and awe, taking responsible risks, finding humor, thinking interdependently, and remaining open to continuous learning.
We agree with Tishman's (2000) view that although it seems that the two proponents offer various habits of mind, some of the habits are very similar. Some examples are: "open minded" (Marzano et al., 1993) and "remaining open to continuous learning" (Costa & Kallick, 2000); "accurate and seeks accuracy" (Marzano et al., 1993) and "striving for accuracy and precision" (Costa & Kallick, 2000); as well as "clear and seeks clarity" (Marzano et al., 1993) and "thinking and communicating with clarity and precision" (Costa & Kallick, 2000).
In our study, we explore the following five specific habits of mind: awareness of own thinking, accurate and seeks accuracy, open minded, takes a position when the situation warrants it, and sensitivity to others. To have clear indicators for the five habits of mind, we adopted Cheung and Hew's (2008) indicators of those habits. They modified the original rubrics of the habits of mind from Marzano et al (1993), deriving the indicators of the five habits of mind shown in Table 1.
|Habits of mind||Indicators|
|Is aware of own thinking||
|Is accurate and seeks accuracy||
|Is open minded||
|Takes a position when the|
situation warrants it
|Is sensitive to others||
For the first case, we chose the Design of Asynchronous Online Discussion course (Case A) in the Master of Arts - Instructional Design and Technology (MAIDT) program. Thirteen graduate students (3 females and 10 males) participated in the course. Students were taught how to design asynchronous online discussion activities during the face-to-face tutorials. They were then asked to upload their design drafts of their asynchronous online discussion activity onto Blackboard for their classmates to critique. The main purpose of the online discussion activity was to allow the students to be the facilitator of their online discussion forums. At the same time, the students were also participants, identifying problems of their classmates' projects, making suggestions, and giving comments on other people's suggestions, in order to improve the quality of the projects.
In order to verify the findings of the first case, we partially redesigned the first case and conducted the second study. A Multimedia Design course (Case B) was selected. Similar to Case A, the Multimedia Design course was from the same MAIDT program. Sixteen graduate students (5 females, and 11 males) enrolled in the course. Students were taught various multimedia design concepts and guidelines during the face to face tutorials. They were asked to upload their design drafts of their multimedia story board onto Blackboard for their classmates to critique.
We selected the two cases according to the following criteria. First, all the online discussion forums were facilitated by students. Second, the courses used "blended approach". Third, the same instructor taught both courses. Fourth, both courses were in the same program. In our study, we chose both courses from the Master of Arts program. This was to minimise the risk of possible confounding variables due to the students' academic level. Fifth, the task nature was the same for both Case A and Case B - an ill-structured design problem. All the students were asked to solve design problems through the online discussion. Sixth, the students utilised the same software (i.e., Blackboard) for the online discussions.
However, there were a few differences between the first case and the second case. First, the duration of the online discussion for those two courses was not the same. It was two weeks for Case A and eight days for Case B. Second, credits were given to students who participated in the online discussion forums in Case A, but not Case B. Third, there was one student facilitator per forum in Case A while there were two student facilitators per forum in Case B.
To address the second research question, "What are the prominent habits of mind displayed by facilitators in groups that have high degree of learner participation in the discussion?", we evaluated the transcripts in terms of the quantity of messages posted by the learners (excluding the facilitators') in each forum. We ranked the participants' postings (excluding facilitators' postings) and chose the top 30% of the forums which had the highest number of participants' postings. We analysed the transcripts of the five habits of mind according to Cheung and Hew's modified version (see Table 1).
|Displayed habits of mind||Case A||Case B|
|Is aware of own thinking.||73||52%||65||40%|
|Is accurate and seeks accuracy.||12||8%||13||8%|
|Is open minded.||48||34%||70||43%|
|Takes a position when the situation warrants it.||7||5%||14||8%|
|Is sensitive to others.||2||1%||2||1%|
|Displayed habits of mind||Case A||Case B|
|Is aware of own thinking.||33||64%||27||32%|
|Is accurate and seeks accuracy.||3||6%||12||14%|
|Is open minded.||12||24%||40||47%|
|Takes a position when the situation warrants it.||3||6%||5||6%|
|Is sensitive to others.||0||0%||1||1%|
Student A: When the facilitator is aware of his own thinking, he will give the participants a clear idea about the issues for discussion or the discussion direction. As a result, I will be more involved by providing more comments and feedback of the discussed issues. There were times that I did not understand what the facilitators were thinking by reading the posting. If I did not understand what the facilitators expected the participants to contribute in the online discussion, then I found it very difficult for me to respond to their postings.In addition, another student pointed out the importance of the "Open minded" habit exhibited by the facilitator in the online postings.
Student B: I will participate more actively when then the facilitator was open minded. This showed the facilitator was willing to accept opinion from others without being biased.When we compared the two cases, there was a higher percentage of the open minded habit in Case B. One plausible reason for this is that no credit was given to the students in Case B; hence the facilitators had to make a greater effort in encouraging participants to contribute in the online discussion forum. As a result, the facilitators exhibited more open minded habits of mind so that they could welcome ideas and suggestions from the participants without being biased.
There was another interesting finding from our interview with Student B. He exhibited more "accuracy and seek accuracy" habits of mind when he served as a participant in other people's forums. This was because he believed it was the participants' responsibility, rather than the facilitators' responsibility, to provide accurate information for others. It could be that there were other participants who had the same belief as Student B. In such a case, we could understand why the exhibited facilitators' "accurate and seeks accuracy" habits of mind did not happen as often as "Open minded" and "Aware of own thinking".
Student B: I believe it is the participants' responsibility to provide accurate information for the group members; however, the facilitator's role should encourage group members to participate in the online discussion.We believe some facilitators did not want to "take a position" because it might cut off contribution of ideas from the participants of the online discussions, as explained by one student facilitator:
Student A: I feel that when I take a certain position, the other participants would not want to contribute further. This is because when a facilitator takes a position, he is implying to other people that he or she has already decided to act on a certain idea or suggestion. This discourages other participants from voicing any further comments, especially from those who have yet to contribute their viewpoints.Another plausible explanation as to why other students are reluctant to contribute to discussions when the facilitators have taken a certain position may be due to the personality of Asian students, who may worry about offending people, especially in situations when their opinions conflict with that of the facilitators (Zhao & McDougall, 2005).
Most of the facilitators did not show the habit of "sensitive to others" in the online discussion forums. One of the students shared with us in the interview that:
Even though I did not exhibit sensitivity to others, it did not mean I was not sensitive to them. Probably I was more focused on the discussion task, rather than sensitive to others in our relationship.Other studies (e.g., Hew & Hara, 2007; Jonassen & Kwon, 2001) also have suggested that individuals tended to be more task oriented in the online discussion context and less engaged in social-emotional activities. Another possible reason may be the facilitators did not know how to show sensitivity to others in the online discussion context.
Future research could investigate the influence of the facilitators' habits of mind on the quality of the online discussions. The quality of online discussions may be assessed by examining the depth of cognitive processes such as creative thinking, and critical thinking (see Hew & Cheung, 2003) exhibited by the participants. It would also be interesting to adapt this research to other online environments in other subject areas that are facilitated by academic staff, to see whether our findings are applicable. To provide a more complete answer to the question "Do the facilitators' habits of mind influence the degree of learners' participation?", future studies could go further into comparing the facilitators' habits of minds for groups with high, medium, and low levels of learners' participation.
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|Authors: Associate Professor Wing Sum Cheung|
Learning Sciences & Technologies Academic Group
National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Assistant Professor Khe Foon Hew
Learning Sciences & Technologies Academic Group
National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Please cite as: Cheung, W. S. & Hew, K. F. (2010). Examining facilitators' habits of mind in an asynchronous online discussion environment: A two cases study. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26(1), 123-132. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet26/cheung.html