What About the BTBs?

I wasn’t 100% sure what my Between The Blogs (BTB) posts would add to my Blog. I’ve reflected separately over these posts (also a few points in my learning reflection posts) and identified some useful information about external influences and challenges on my engagement and impact on my learning. I’ve found some of these challenges more tricky to handle than others, and understand that some online learners may find similar challenges a real barrier to learning. These ‘between’ blogs have encouraged me to examine and relate my own setbacks and experiences to the HE challenges of student attendance, retention and widening access. I haven’t defined the answers to these challenges from an online position, but think that it’s a good start to begin to consider what specific help I should be providing for online learners who are finding difficulty in engaging, or even attending, their online courses.

To recap, what I’ve personally encountered since January:

  • Short holiday away from studies
  • Illness – two occasions (one recorded in BTB and one I’m currently experiencing)
  • Close bereavement
  • Technical challenges: bad connectivity at home, and constraints of my small screen laptop, which led to me only being able to blog on my home PC which I have to share with others. Both have led to time management challenges

Is it unusual, or normal, for a student to encounter this number of challenges in one trimester? I’m unsure! Are the challenges that online learners encounter different from the campus-based learner?  Again I’m unsure! Perhaps this would be a useful focus for future research on the PGBOE, however it’s definitely something I need to take into consideration when planning and designing current online interventions. How exactly do the challenges of time-commitment, family commitments, online preferences, personal and educational setbacks, and technical issues impact on engagement and successful learning?

Also, as my institution begins to focus more on internationalisation and an excellent, personalised student experience for every student, regardless of whether that student is on-campus, off-campus, distance or blended learning, it’s no longer acceptable to say “I didn’t think about that impact on the student”.  As learning providers and learning supporters we must get the complexities of our Teaching Presence (Garrison & Anderson, 2003) spot on for each of our learners i.e. our design, facilitation, direction and learning focus.  And we must do this in the face of the non-academic, and academic, setbacks our learners are encountering.

I also found that my thinking in this post linked to the recommended reading: ‘Supporting Students Online, Open & Distance (Simpson, 2013). In particular where Simpson cites Morgan & Tam (1999) 4 classifications of the barriers to progress by students online, using student interviews as a basis. The 4 classifications are:

  1. Situational: i.e. poor family support – links to many of our ENU 1st generation HE learners
  2. Dispositional: i.e. personal study problems
  3. Institutional: late arrival of materials
  4. Epistemological: difficult course content

My learning challenges in this module have linked mostly to Dispositional, however I have found a few instances of family support challenges (Situational) mostly linked to other commitments to close family (home life and care commitments) and the needs and desires of my wider family. In other words, like so many other Scottish Domiciled students, I do not have the luxury of a student life spent simply in pursuit of knowledge and self-improvement.

My experience of working with students close to assignment deadlines are that they too are mainly challenged by Situational and Dispositional barriers. They have access to Epistemological challenge support from their tutors and PDTs on a regular basis but often find it far more challenging to deal with personal and family chanllenges as they perceive it’s their responsibility to handle these themselves.

How this informs my future practice is that through the wealth of support within the university from experts in most areas of Situational and Dispositional support, I am in a position to remind students of this support by including relevant links within my orientation or front pages of the module to aid early intervention support.  Examples of the support offered can be found on these pages of the Edinburgh Napier University site.

Finally today: I understand that best practice dictates that I should ‘model’ everything I expect my online learners to demonstrate when collaborating to learn. Palloff and Pratt (2005) give some fine guidance on collaboration (which as they state has “been defined as the hallmark of constructivism”) through their list of collaboration ‘do’s’ in ‘Collaborating Online – Learning Together in Community’ (2005, P6).  I would add to this list that it is my responsibility, through Teaching Presence, to create an online environment which encourages, and nurtures, teacher and learner relationships that break down any barriers to learning, created by things that endanger the success of each learner. This way we will hopefully never have to encounter a negative answer to Neil Selwyn’s chapter 6 question ‘Will Technology Displace the Teacher?’ (2011).

Garrison, D.R & Anderson, T. (2003) ‘E-Learning in the 21st Century’. RoutelegeFalmer: Oxon

Palloff, R.M & Pratt, K. (2005) ‘Collaborating Online – Learning Together in Community’. Jossey-Bass: San Francisco

Selyn, N. (2011) ‘Education and Technology – Key Issues and Debates. Bloomsbury: London

Simpston, O (2013). Supporting Students in Online, Open & Distance Learning.  Taylor & Francis: e.book

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