Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Instructional Technology and Learning Sciences

Committee Chair(s)

Mimi Recker


Mimi Recker


Andrew Walker


Jody Clarke-Midura


Daniel Coster


Yong Seog Kim


This dissertation study explored: 1) instructors’ use of discussion strategies that enhance meaningful learner interactions in online discussions and student performance, and 2) learners’ interaction patterns in online discussions that lead to better student performance in online introductory mathematics courses. In particular, the study applied a set of data mining techniques to a large-scale dataset automatically collected by the Canvas Learning Management System (LMS) for five consecutive years at a public university in the U.S., which included 2,869 students enrolled in 72 courses.

First, the study found that the courses that posted more open-ended prompts, evaluated students’ discussion messages posted by students, used focused discussion settings (i.e., allowing a single response and replies to that response), and provided more elaborated feedback had higher students final grades than those which did not. Second, the results showed the instructors’ use of discussion strategies (discussion structures) influenced the quantity (volume of discussion), the breadth (distribution of participation throughout the discussion), and the quality of learner interactions (levels of knowledge construction) in online discussions. Lastly, the results also revealed that the students’ messages related to allocentric elaboration (i.e., taking other peers’ contributions in argumentive or evaluative ways) and application (i.e., application of new knowledge) showed the highest predictive value for their course performance.

The findings from this study suggest that it is important to provide opportunities for learners to freely discuss course content, rather than creating a discussion task related to producing a correct answer, in introductory mathematics courses. Other findings reported in the study can also serve as guidance for instructors or instructional designers on how to design better online mathematics courses.



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