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Influence of Online Discussion Initial Posts on Peer Engagement in Response Posts
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Engagement in online classes can promote student success but can be met with challenges associated with students feeling isolated from their peers, their instructors, or the course when learning online. Building opportunities for student interaction is one way to combat this isolation. A common activity in online courses that allows for student interaction is the asynchronous discussion; however, discussions do not inherently lead to meaningful engagement among students.This study aims to determine how students influence the engagement of their peers, so that instructors can better design student interactions that will promote engagement. Specifically, it investigates how the moves that students make in their initial discussion posts influence the behavioral, social, and cognitive engagement of their peers in response posts. Data were collected from asynchronous online discussions then analyzed to determine how the characteristics of initial posts may predict engagement in peer responses. Characteristics of initial posts included the time from the due date the initial post was made, the initial post word count, its reading ease score, its use of first- or second-person language, and its level of cognitive presence. Results indicate that some characteristics of initial posts do influence the behavioral, social, or cognitive engagement of peers. An initial post’s time from due date influenced peer behavioral engagement in the form of whether a response post was made. In terms of peer social engagement, first-person language, reading ease, and word count were found to influence individual categories or indicators of social presence. Finally, an initial post’s use of first-person language and its cognitive presence level were found to influence cognitive engagement in peers. These results suggest that the actions of individual students can influence the engagement of their peers in online discussion boards. On this basis, the characteristics of initial posts that influenced engagement in peer responses should be taken into consideration in the design of online discussion activities.