Direct and indirect ways of being helpful in online peer help-giving interactions

Amos Jeng, Destiny Williams-Dobosz, Nigel Bosch, Michelle Perry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Past research conducted in in-person classrooms has demonstrated that helping behavior—requesting and giving help in academic settings—plays an important role in learning. However, little is known about peer-to-peer help-giving in online learning environments, and online students may find it difficult to receive the help they need to succeed. Specifically, we have little knowledge of the factors contributing to productive helping behavior in online spaces, as well as how these factors may support students’ online learning experiences. Thus, the aim of the present study was to understand the conditions underlying effective peer help-giving in online college course discussion forums. To this end, we surveyed 88 college students about what they found helpful or unhelpful in examples of replies to requests for help posted to an online statistics college course discussion forum. A qualitative analysis of participants’ written responses using a grounded theory approach yielded a model for assessing the helpfulness of peer help-giving replies within the discussion forum context. We learned that online help-giving replies could take the form of direct help—such as being elaborated, accurate, relevant, and/or understandable to the help-seeker—or indirect help—such as being encouraging, resource providing, calling to the community, and/or being concise. Our emergent online-specific model of academic help-giving contributes to existing theory by illustrating how peer help-giving replies can be structured to promote social, cognitive, and teaching presence in online communities of inquiry. Ultimately, these findings could inform practices that improve online learning opportunities for students.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104894
JournalComputers and Education
StatePublished - Nov 2023


  • Cooperative/collaborative learning
  • Distance education and online learning
  • Learning communities
  • Post-secondary education

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Computer Science
  • Education


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