Paper Presentations: Imposters, lurkers, or subscribers: How do students use discussion forums?

Presenter: Nicole Sugden

Co-presenter(s): Dr Robyn Brunton

Faculty / Division: Faculty of Business, Justice and Behavioural Sciences

School / Unit: SOP

Session Type: Paper Presentation

Session Number: 2

When: Tuesday 15th November at 11:15 am

Zoom link: Passcode: 440507


Discussion forums are an integral part of online learning, particularly in the post-covid world. Participation in online student discussion forums may have benefits including increased student engagement, sense of belonging, reflection and higher-order thinking, collaboration among students, and performance (Dumford & Miller, 2018). Despite students generally perceiving discussion forums to be helpful, many students choose not to contribute posts to the forums (Decker & Beltran, 2016). Many students prefer to “lurk” and passively read the posts of others (Denman, 2008). Little research has been carried out as to why students lurk, but qualitative evidence suggests psychological factors such as shyness or feeling intimidated about posting in a competitive online environment (i.e., imposter syndrome) may contribute (Griffin & Roy, 2019). Also unknown, is whether these “lurkers” are unengaged or simply quiet participants engaging with content without posting. Part of the difficulty of examining these effects is the problematic methodologies that have been used. For example, much of the research on discussion forum participation has used behavioural data (e.g., number of posts) and has failed to capture affective and cognitive aspects of engagement. Drawing on educational theories of community of practice and student engagement, alongside psychological theories of motivation and cognition, we will explore how students use discussion forums. Specifically, we will address whether discussion forums represent a committee of practice, how students engage with discussion forums, factors that influence engagement/lurking behaviours, and whether this engagement influences achievement. This paper will outline 3 studies: 1. A mixed-methods study using interview/focus group and student analytic data from second-year psychology students. Social network analysis identified learning communities on the discussion forum and interview data provided insight into student engagement. 2. A study of 1st and 2nd year students investigating personality, competitiveness, imposter, and psychological distress as predictors of lurking behaviour, and subsequent effects of lurking on achievement. 3. Preliminary work on the development of a psychometric measure of lurking. This paper will conclude with a discussion of implications of this research for the use of discussion forums. We will provide practical advice on how forums may be set up to increase engagement and participation through providing a safe environment that students feel comfortable posting in.