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Social Presence Online

This study will consider how well students with learning disabilities, ADHD, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) learn concepts in an online statistics course when the instructor participates in real-time (synchronous) online discussions with the students as opposed to asynchronous discussions.

Synchronous Versus Asynchronous On-Line Discussions for Students with Disabilities (2014 – 17)

Landmark College students and professor at table working on laptopsLCIRT has received a $486,970 National Science Foundation (NSF-REAL) award for a proposal entitled “Social Presence During Instructor Mediated Synchronous Versus Asynchronous On-Line Discussions: A Study of Undergraduate Students with Disabilities Learning Statistics.”


Title: “Synchronous Versus Asynchronous On-Line Discussions for Students with Disabilities” National Science Foundation logo (image of earth with letters NSF)
Funder: National Science Foundation
Award Number: 1420198
Award Amount: $486,970
Funding Period: 2014 – 2017
PI: Dr. Ibrahim Dahlstrom-Hakki
Co-PI: Dr. Manju Banerjee
Faculty Associate: Kevin Keith, M.A.  
Research Associate: Dr. Zachary Alstad

Project Description

Since online learning is a vast and growing enterprise around the world, this research has the potential to help colleges and universities design online courses that work better for students who learn differently. Currently, many online classes use an asynchronous format, wherein students will individually comment on material and participate in a relatively unconnected way. It is not yet clear as to who this works for and why. This need for further research is part of the rationale for this study.

Dr. Ibrahim Dahlstrom-Hakki, a Senior Academic Researcher at Landmark College Institute for Research and Training (LCIRT), and Dr. Manju Banerjee, Vice President for Educational Research and Innovation and Director of LCIRT, lead this three-year research initiative. Kevin Keith, Landmark College mathematics and computer science professor, and the rest of the College’s math department provide instructional support. Research Associate Zachary Alstad adds data collection and analysis support to this study.


Year 1: Initial findings indicated the effectiveness of synchronous online interactions when compared to similar, asynchronous educational environments for students who learn differently. It is also clear that there are still more trials necessary before conclusions can be made. Interestingly, students in the study seem to prefer synchronous compared to asynchronous discussions.

Project Team

Dr. Ibrahim Dahlstrom-Hakki, Project Director/Principal Investigator

Headshot of Dr. Ibrahim Dahlstrom-Hakki

Dr. Dahlstrom-Hakki is the Principal Investigator of this project and is involved in each step of this project. He is responsible for project management, is involved in content and materials development, collecting and analyzing data, as well as the dissemination of findings.

Dr. Manju Banerjee, Co-Project Director/Principal Investigator

Headshot of Dr. Manju Banerjee

Dr. Banerjee is the Co-Principal Investigator of this project and is involved in all aspect of the project. She supports the PI in managing this project, is involved in content and materials development, analyzing data, as well as the dissemination of findings.

Dr. Zachary Alstad, Research Associate

Headshot of Dr. Zachary Alstad

Dr. Alstad’s responsibilities for the grant included extraction of data from online course management software and video capture software. He has also assisted with the qualitative components of the data analysis including focus groups and video coding models. Dr. Alstad will continue to support all aspect of the project including instrument preparation, data collection, data analysis, and dissemination.

Kevin Keith, M.A., Faculty Associate

Headshot of Kevin Keith

Mr. Keith is a professor of mathematics at Landmark College and teaches all sections of statistics involved in this project. He has developed the classroom content and supported the team in selecting appropriate instruments. Mr. Keith is also assisting with the interpretation of research findings and will support dissemination activities.

Other Researchers Supporting This Project

External Evaluator

Dr. Eleazar Vasquez, Associate Professor, College of Human Education and Performance, University of Florida.

Advisory Board Members

Dr. James Basham: Associate Professor, Department of Special Education & Center for Research on Learning, University of Kansas.

Dr. Jinfa Cai: Professor, Department of Mathematical Sciences and School of Education, University of Delaware.

Dr. Noel Gregg: Distinguished Research Professor, Associate Dean of Research, College of Education, University of Georgia.

Dr. Cliff Konold: Director, Scientific Reasoning Research Institute, University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Megan Mocko: Master Lecturer, Statistics Department, University of Florida.

Dr. Michael Shaughnessy: Professor Emeritus of Mathematics and Statistics, Portland State University.


National Science Foundation logo (image of earth with letters NSF)This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1420198.

Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.


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