Mandatory online discussions: The effect of a postgraduate policy on communication between faculty members and graduate learners
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A graduate-level online university located in the northwest area of the United States of America implemented a policy to help graduate learners increase their interactions with faculty and peers. No research had been conducted at the research site to examine the effects of the policy on the communication between faculty and graduate learners. In order to gain some empirical evidence that the policy was effective, the researchers measured the frequency of postings posted by faculty and graduate learners during the duration of randomly selected online classes before and after the implementation of the policy. Grounded in the social learning theory of Vygotsky, the goal of this research was to determine the relationship of the frequency of communication between faculty and graduate learners. Archived data were collected for two cohorts of 235 graduate learners and 16 faculty members from before and after the implementation of the policy. Content analysis procedures were used on the computer-mediated transcripts of the online discussions between faculty and graduate learners within several graduate courses in education offered entirely online. An independent sample t test was utilized to analyze the data and a significant difference between the means of faculty and student postings was found in the two cohorts. The empirical evidence was that the communication policy increased the frequency of posting between faculty and graduate learners. The results of this study can be used by online faculty and university leadership to support the continued advocacy for professional development for faculty.