On-line course interactions: Making choices

Year: 2015

Author: Dargusch, Joanne

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The growth of on-line or blended course delivery, common in higher education contexts around the globe, has clear repercussions for course design and delivery. The research in this field has moved beyond an earlier focus on the comparison of face-to-face and on-line learning environments, to an investigation of the affordances of on-line learning including increased flexibility, availability and opportunities for active learning. While it is strongly held that interactions are important to student learning and success in this environment, it is not clear how students’ perceptions of their roles and responsibilities and their understanding of the rules and assessment requirements in on-line courses influences how, when and for what purpose they interact with others.
In the first of two phases this study involved nine Education students from a regional Australian university who had completed a second-year on-line course designed specifically to promote student interactions through a focus on formative assessment and feedback interactions in discussion forums. The second phase of the study was a form of member checking that involved second-year students (n. 17) who had not completed this course, but whose degrees to date included a large proportion of other on-line courses.
The choice of research design was influenced by Creswell & Plano Clark’s (2007) assertion that mixed methods provides more insight into research problems than either qualitative or quantitative approaches alone. The main forms of data collected included survey questionnaires and interviews with individual students and course forum entries (Phase 1) and focus group interviews and concept maps (Phase 2). The survey questionnaire data was tabulated and the univariate and bivariate analysis revealed patterns in the range of responses. The forum entries were coded according to students’ categories of usefulness. The open-ended questions and interviews and focus group interviews were coded manually according to key thematic concepts drawn from the research questions.
The findings identify the mediating factors that influence students’ engagement with an online course and how students’ perceptions of their own role and the role of others influences the value they place on interactions with others. As the project further develops, emphasis will be given to working with students on building on-line learning communities in ways that fit with their conceptions of learning as well as those of course designers.