University Of Tasmania
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Engagement, technology and tutors : experiences of distance online students

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posted on 2023-05-27, 10:00 authored by Herrmann, AD
For at least the last decade student engagement in Australian higher education has been one focus of research and policy development. However, research and policy development have not been applied evenly across the sector, with an emphasis on gathering data from students studying in the on-¬¨‚ↂÄövÑv™‚ÄövÑv´ campus mode. Simultaneously, online learning has insinuated itself into most, if not all, modes and forms of teaching and learning in higher education, but has impacted distance education more than other modes. Given the existing policy focus, most current research in this area has tended to be oriented towards the sector or institutions rather than students. This investigation turned to a small group of students to provide insights into their engagement with studying in the distance mode, online. It sought to foreground their experiences of their engagement and thereby promote a better understanding by others of how students' higher education experience can be improved. Responding to calls for more research into off-¬¨‚â†campus (distance) student engagement (Coates, 2006) and for new research approaches to e-¬¨‚â†learning (Friesen, 2009), this qualitative study used semi- structured interviews to elicit student participants' perceptions of their engagement as students and the impact which tutors and technology had on their engagement and perceptions of it. The data were then analysed within a human science research framework (van Manen, 1990), employing methods from phenomenology and hermeneutics. Although the participants were distance students, they did not study in isolation. Findings from the investigation also suggested that student relations with tutors and peers were important to their engagement with their study. As well, the findings of the investigation foregrounded the recurring themes derived from the data that underpinned student perception of engagement: connectedness, reciprocity, pragmatism, routine, involvement, online identity and online image. It also identified not only the freedom which technology afforded distance students in terms of the time and place of their engagement, but also their creativity in their control over the manner in which they engaged with peers and tutors and highlighted the importance of tutors understanding the perceptions of engagement held by those students whom they may never see. It also became evident that while tutors perceived engagement in terms of student learning and content, students' perceptions of engagement were more complex and included interest generated by study materials, the quality of interaction with other students and tutors and the usefulness of these interactions in their study. Importantly, this investigation demonstrated that a detailed qualitative approach could foreground the subtle and nuanced themes impacting the way distance online students engaged. Understanding these themes will lead to pedagogical frameworks sensitive to distance students' experiences online.


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