Critically Evaluate Davies, J. and Graff, M. (2005) ‘Performance in E-Learning: Online Participation and Student Grades’, British Journal of Educational Technology, Vol. 36, No. 4, Pp. 657–63

Davies and Graff place their work within the context of research into participation in online learning programmes .   The literature they cite suggests that online interaction offers improved student learning: increasing participation (Citera, 1988), inclusivity (Warschauer, 1997), and community (Rovai, 2002).   They cite research which suggests that peer interaction online is beneficial to learners (Karayan & Crowe, 1997; Smith & Hardaker, 2000) and conversely that lack of interaction is detrimental (Haythorthwaite, Kazmer, Robbins & Shoemaker, 2000).   They have taken from this research the premise that 'online participation in discussion forums is an effective learning aid' (p. 659).  

Davies and Graff argue that the benefits of online interaction have not been measured against student performance, and therefore they aim: 'to investigate whether online interaction could produce any tangible benefits in terms of improving student learning, as measured by final grades on a series of different courses’ (Davies and Graff, 1995. p. 661).   They expect that 'students who proportionately spend more time in communication/group areas [of blackboard] should achieve better modular grades' (p. 659).   Without referencing literature which explores whether participation, community, inclusivity, and in-depth discussion in face-to-face teaching settings have a positive impact on student assessment, so it would be difficult to unpick whether the online element yields particular differences.

One strength of their methodology is to measure electronically instances of access to the areas of 'blackboard' which facilitate online peer interaction.   This removes any element of self-report, and accurately indicates frequency of access.   By measuring hits on the group and communication areas of 'blackboard' Davies and Graff avoid entering the contested field of what constitutes participation.   They do not engage with the quantity or quality of messages, and there is no subjective...