University Of Tasmania

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The rhetoric and reality of online student engagement in Australian universities: Implications for academics' professional development

conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-24, 21:21 authored by Parida, S, Albert AmankwaaAlbert Amankwaa, Mohammadi, H, Desmond AyentimiDesmond Ayentimi, D'Cruz, D, Dhakal, S, Dayaram, K

Background/Context: Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic led to a surge in online teaching and learning within the higher education sector. Simultaneously it heightened the sector's notion of online student engagement. While some studies associate online student engagement with quality university teaching and learning and the ubiquity of technology; the concept and its application have not been without criticisms. For instance, it has been argued that students are often left out of the engagement discourse; and that student engagement has become a buzzword that diminishes the real need for rigorous professional development teaching and learning academic staff. It is, therefore, crucial to explore these two particular criticisms further since they directly relate to the 'effective engagement' of students' online learning.

The initiative/practice: The current study draws on Social Learning Theory (SLT) to examine the rhetoric and reality of student engagement in Australian universities in an online learning environment. Inspired by behavioural and cognitive learning perspectives, SLT offers a practical setting for research and practice within online learning environments.

Methods of evaluative data collection and analysis: The study adopts an exploratory qualitative research approach. A total of 33 semi- structured interviews with academics and learning designers across four Australian universities were conducted between December 2021 and January 2022. The data was analysed using thematic analysis techniques.

Evidence of outcomes and effectiveness: The findings demonstrate at least three elements of student engagement-related rhetoric and realities within the online learning environment. First, there is a lack of clarity of student engagement at the policy level among the different universities. Second, there seems to be divergence among academic staff regarding what constitutes effective online student engagement. Third, there are limited continuing professional development opportunities on online learning platforms utilisation.


Publication title

Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia Annual Conference



Event title

Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia Annual Conference

Event Venue

Melbourne, Australia

Date of Event (Start Date)


Date of Event (End Date)


Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Higher education; Teacher and instructor development