Discussion forums: A misnomer? Examining lurkers, engagement and academic achievement

Robyn Brunton, Jasmine MacDonald, Nicole Sugden, Ben Hicks

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Discussion forums are often touted as maximising student participation and learning but concerns around engagement counter any perceived benefits. Often participation is the measure of engagement, and students who do not post are deemed unengaged. To further examine engagement and forums as learning communities, we used analytic data from 270 students enrolled in two online psychology subjects using social network analysis and interviewed 22 students. Both subjects’ forums had greater egalitarian triads, indicative of reciprocal relationships. Furthermore, both active posters and lurkers had a mix of grade bands indicating that some lurkers still achieved academically. Lurking was a key qualitative theme along with checking for assessment information and intimidation. For both subjects, students were engaged with the forums, and differences in connectivity were consistent with the different subject content. However, forum activity indicated that these forums were more like subscription services than communities of practice. We propose that forums can be transformed into dynamic teaching spaces through understanding the multidimensionality of engagement, setting the expectation and tone of the forum as a safe place, and enhancing the platforms so visible indicators show that posts have been read or consumed. We further propose that students who engage but do not post be called quiet participants. Implications for practice or policy: • Educators and researchers can improve the understanding of engagement with discussion forums by acknowledging the distinction between participation and engagement. • Online providers can assist in transforming these online platforms into dynamic teaching tools through enhancements that indicate a post has been read. • Educators can increase engagement by setting the tone and expectations for the forum. • Replacing the negative term lurker with quiet participants better reflects the activity of these students.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)27-44
Number of pages18
JournalAustralasian Journal of Educational Technology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jul 2022


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