Students More Likely to Post to Discussion Boards if Anonymous
Online discussion boards are increasingly being used to support university teaching. Academic staff members encourage students to use online student discussion boards within learning management systems to ask and answer questions, share information, and engage in discussion.
In a recent study conducted by researchers at Curtin University, students reported being significantly more likely to post to discussion boards when anonymous posting was enabled than when identified posting was required. Students who preferred to post anonymously were significantly less likely to post on discussion boards requiring identification than other students.
“As a lecturer, I noted that many more postings were made to discussion boards that allowed students to post anonymously than those that required ‘named’ postings,” said Dr Lynne Roberts, Director of Teaching and Learning in the School of Psychology and Speech Pathology at Curtin University and co-author of the report. “This research project built upon this observation to further understand the impact of anonymity on student posting behaviour.”
Roberts and her research partner, Camilla Rajah-Kanagasabai, surveyed 131 undergraduate psychology students in Australia and found that students were more likely to post to discussion boards when able to do so anonymously.
“Concern about online privacy, self-consciousness, fear of negative evaluation, and limited knowledge about virtual environments were associated with a reduced likelihood of posting to student discussion boards when names were required,” Roberts told InformED.
Of the four activities measured–posting questions, answering questions, starting discussion threads, and posting links–students were most likely to prefer anonymous posting when posting questions and starting discussion threads. Posting links was the activity least associated with the desire to post anonymously.
Of additional importance, students did not perceive the credibility of anonymous authors to be any less than named authors, and reported being just as likely to respond to an anonymous posting as a named posting. However, the researchers found that on discussion boards requiring identification, students who preferred being identified posted much more often than students who preferred remaining anonymous.
Overall, the data supported enhanced participation in anonymous discussion settings.
“Our findings support the use of anonymous discussion boards as providing a ‘safe’ teaching environment,” says Roberts.
She says educators should consider enabling anonymous postings and providing training to increase student self-efficacy as ways of enhancing student engagement “through decreasing concerns about self-presentation online.”
In a time when online education is on the rise, it pays to take advantage of any feature that may engage students and enhance participation, even if it means making the experience less personal.