Creating a research community for distance students: Using guided asynchronous online discussion groups

Year: 2016

Author: Luck, Jo

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Central Queensland University is a regional university based in Rockhampton in Central Queensland. Many of the Research Higher Degree (RHD) students are enrolled as distance students and rarely get to meet other RHD students in person. Fundamentals of Research is a course designed to provide guided support for RHD students to prepare their confirmation of candidature document. Despite actively encouraging the students to use the Question and Answer forum on the course Moodle site to connect with other RHD students, the students communicated primarily with the course coordinator but not each other.In Term 2, 2016 guided asynchronous online discussion groups were implemented to act as a catalyst in the creation of a research culture among the RHD students. Utilising student and lecturer guides created by Delahunty (2014) three tasks were designed to foster conversations amongst the students about their own individual research projects, issues faced by RHD students when first embarking on their study and resources that they found useful and wished to share with other students. This paper reports on the experiences of the course coordinator as she aimed to create a sense of community amongst the 2016 RHD student cohort. Data collected were personal reflections, student postings on the online discussions, data on which posts were accessed and how often, and an anonymous online survey. The data was analysed using an Actor-Network Theory perspective to shed light on the interactions between people and technologies when introducing device-mediated educational change (Fenwick & Richards, 2012). The findings reveal how the student-to-student interactions changed as a result of the guided discussion groups on topics that were of interest to the RHD student cohort. The results will be used to inform other staff about how to create an inclusive culture of community within distance student cohorts.Reference:Delahunty, J. (2014). Constructing knowledge, identity and community in asynchronous discussion forums: Socio-semiotic perspectives in online learning (Unpublished PhD thesis). University of Wollongong, Wollongong, NSW.Fenwick, T. & Edwards, R. (Eds.). (2012). Researching education through actor-network theory, Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.