Enhancing online protocols through design-based research to improve cognitive presence in a large enrolment course


  • Janet Mannheimer Zydney University of Cincinnati
  • Aimee deNoyelles University of Central Florida
  • Baiyun Chen University of Central Florida
  • Kerry Rich Patton University of Cincinnati




blended learning, business education, cognitive presence, large enrolments, online discussions, protocols, design-based research


Instructors face challenges in facilitating higher levels of shared cognition in large enrolment classes. One strategy to foster shared cognition is the use of asynchronous discussions; however, these can be difficult to support with large numbers of students. Online protocols have been found to help students take more ownership of the discussion, reducing the workload of instructors and thus may be helpful in this context. The purpose of this study was to determine the most effective design of online protocols in large enrolment classes. The study used a design-based research methodology to iteratively design, assess and refine the online protocols and the design principles of its underlying protocol pedagogy. Participants for this study were 1,286 students enrolled in a blended undergraduate class in business that used online protocols for discussions over three semesters. The paper describes how iterative changes in the design of protocol-based discussions influenced students' cognitive presence. Students’ perceptions of cognitive presence were significantly higher in the second and third iterations, and the concepts shared by group members were significantly more integrated by the third iteration. Findings suggest that with careful design, these enhanced protocols are a potentially useful strategy to facilitate asynchronous online discussions in large classes.

Implications for practice or policy:

  • Students need additional incentives to actively participate in large enrolment courses.
  • Instructors can use peer questioning to increase shared cognition in large enrolment courses.
  • Instructors should create concise directions with modelling of exemplary posts to help reduce confusion.
  • Students in large enrolment courses benefit from additional scaffolding of norms to foster a sense of trust.
  • Design-based research provides an effective methodology to examine both theoretical and practical implications of online protocols on cognitive presence.


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How to Cite

Zydney, J., deNoyelles, A., Chen, B., & Patton, K. (2021). Enhancing online protocols through design-based research to improve cognitive presence in a large enrolment course. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 38(1), 53–68. https://doi.org/10.14742/ajet.5994