Using discussion forums to mediate in higher education: A literature review through an activity theory lens.
Ithindi, Elina T.
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The diffusion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in education has brought along impediments in the education system where higher institutions of learning are not exempted. The adoption of ICT tools to mediate learning that is not informed by pedagogical and learning theory might not produced the desired results in any given context. Mediating learning with discussion forums is perceived to be one of the simplest ways to use ICTs in education, but the outcomes are not always rewarding. Indisputably, a discussion forum has a potential to transform learning, but contextual factors might influence the effectiveness of a tool, especially when the selection of the tool is not informed by underlying theoretical principles of learning. This paper demonstrates how Activity Theory is applied as a lens to describe, substantiate and understand how discussion forums have been used in Higher Education contexts, with the intent to evaluate and understand how mediating learning with an ICT tool - discussion forums in this case - should be based on underlying theoretical principles of learning, taking into account contextual factors that might influence the use of a tool. It transpires from the three case studies analysed in this paper that instructors need guidance to effectively use and monitor discussion forums, or ICT tools in general, hence implying how underlying theoretical principles of learning could be a determining factor to the success of a tool.