May 30, 2012 1 Comment
We have a poster presentation at the EDEN conference in Porto, Portugal next week. The conference theme is ‘Closing the gap from Generation Y to the mature lifelong learner’. Our poster is a case study of a distance learning course, the PGCert in the Principles and Practices of Translation. The vast majority of courses at City University are blended learning courses (using a mix of face to face and online resources) so we were interested to see how the students on a distance learning course utilsed the tools made available to them in Moodle. The poster outlines how mature students from two cohorts on this course, with different levels of technical experience, have utilised the online resources, focussing on the use of discussion forums and Adobe Connect.
Evelyn Reisinger, Course Director, set up a news forum and discussion forums in Moodle. These were designed to encourage the students to raise and discuss their own issues as they felt appropriate with minimal interference from university staff. I was interested in whether the students utilised these discussion forums to create a community of practice (or communities of practice as there are a number of language combinations available within the programme). This draws from the work of Etienne Wenger (2006).
I completed a content analysis of the discussion forum postings for each year group. I did this by reading through each post and categorising it in terms of its content.
The contributions on the discussion forums specifically relate to some of the criteria for communities of practice as outlined by Wenger (2006). These include problem solving, requests for information, coordination and synergy and discussing developments (see the percentage interaction for each cohort below).
The academic staff were keen to have some face to face tutorial time with the students. This was done using Adobe Connect (AC) web conference software already in use at the university. The sessions were specifically designed to answer student questions just after they had received assessment feedback. The students sent in their questions before the session and the course lecturers answered them in text form on Moodle and through AC.
- AC live sessions were not well attended
- Some students suggested that the time of the session wasn’t convenient
- Some students are studying from different countries so the time zone may have been a factor
- The sessions were held in the afternoons when many of the distance learning students may have been at work or had childcare issues
- Students that didn’t attend did access and view the tutorial recordings so the sessions were perceived as worthwhile
- Students did use the discussion forums to communicate on many levels and did create communities of practice. In 2009/10 they were focused on the course but in 2011/12 a German to English mothers forum was set up and this includes personal interactions about their lives and similarities. The staff on the course are actively encouraging use of the discussion forums in this way
- Students were willing to use the online resources made available to them. They had signed up for a distance learning course and were made aware that resources were shared online so this could have led to a self selected IT-confident group
- Students used discussion forums for a number of different interactions, mostly related to the course but including some personal interaction
- Age of student was no predictor of their use of the technology
- Adobe Connect recorded tutorials were accessed if students could not virtually attend at the time of the tutorial so proved a valuable resource type
Interview with Course Director Evelyn Reisinger on using Moodle (recorded during the first year of the programme)