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Engagement, technology and tutors : experiences of distance online students


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Herrmann, AD 2015 , 'Engagement, technology and tutors : experiences of distance online students', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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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-­‐‑
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-­campus (distance) student engagement (Coates,
2006) and for new research approaches to e-­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.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Herrmann, AD
Keywords: engagement, technology, distance, online, university
Copyright Holders: The Author
Copyright Information:

Copyright 2015 the author

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