International students’ online participation in blended modes of learning in higher education

Year: 2016

Author: Tour, Ekaterina, Turner, Marianne

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In recent years, blended learning as an approach that combines traditional learning with web-based online learning has become increasingly popular in higher education. Blended learning is often viewed as contributing to a pedagogical transformation by supporting student-centred learning through the provision of choice, discovery, creativity and flexibility. Despite the growing interest in this mode of learning and also the different design approaches available, the facilitation of active online participation among international students can be challenging. Little is known about effective pedagogical approaches for students who come from a diverse range of backgrounds, are unused to studying in Western contexts, and have little experience with online learning environments. This paper explores the factors that encourage and discourage international students’ engagement in digital spaces. It draws on data from a mixed method study undertaken at a major Australian university. The participants were seventeen international students enrolled in several Master’s units that employed a blended learning approach through the use of Moodle. Both quantitative and qualitative data were collected in consecutive phases. Phase 1 of the study included observation of students’ participation on Moodle over a period of twelve weeks (one semester) and focused on frequency of participation and types of interactions. At the end of semester, during Phase 2, three focus group interviews were conducted. Focus group answers were then used to generate questions for six individual interviews, which were also conducted at the end of semester, during Phase 3. The research was guided by the literature relating to the affordances of digital technologies and learning principles in digital spaces. The study identified a range of factors that both encouraged and discouraged students’ online participation. They were related to the following aspects of blended learning on Moodle: (1) availability of learning resources in different forms; (2) connections between online activities and assessment; (3) sharing ideas among the students; (4) distribution of face-to-face and online components; and (5) connections between face-to-face and online activities. Drawing on these findings, the paper discusses implications for educators and scholars who wish to transform teaching and research practices related to blended learning.