On-line learning: student and tutor as one.

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Research and Development in Higher Education: Learning for an Unknown Future Vol. 26

July, 2003, 692 pages
Published by
Helen Mathews and Rod McKay
0 90 8557 55 8

This manuscript describes an action research project on on-line learning, comparing university entrants with postgraduates and students with instructors. The main source of evidence is ethnographical in the form of a journal kept for one semester whilst teaching an on-line unit and concurrently studying on-line. Additional evidence was obtained from student evaluations. Both units were designed using constructivist philosophy, although they were quite different: we designed and taught an introductory biology unit, whereas the units we studied were about on-line teaching. The former was less student-centred and more structured, as is appropriate in lower levels of expertise. Both units appeared to be successful with their target audience, engendering depth of understanding and articulation. In addition to the positive findings, two issues emerged. The biology unit experienced significant down times at the start of semester due to technical issues. This reduced the opportunity for familiarisation with the unit, caused considerable anxiety and resulted in a number of students withdrawing from the biology unit. This confirmed the importance of technical reliability and support, particularly for university entrants new to the on-line environment. Students as well as instructors can experience difficulty maintaining engagement in the absence of some form of synchronous communication. This issue was minimised in the biology unit by setting weekly assessment tasks. Most students reported highly positive experiences with the unit and looked forward to continuing on-line study.

Keywords: on-line teaching, science education, transition to university.

On-line learning: student and tutor as one.

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Koenders, A. & Brook, C.