EATAW conference - Managing Boundaries by Dujardin and Farbey


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This short paper reports on the evaluation of an induction module offered on a Master’s course offered exclusively as e-learning. The aim was to ascertain whether the module arrangements provided a bridge between the professional community that students belong to and the academic community. An evaluation tool was used heuristically to assess components of induction (Forrester et al. 2005). Findings suggest that the module was successful in helping students negotiate their entry into postgraduate study and e-learning, and that the components provided a valuable tool for module evaluation.

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EATAW conference - Managing Boundaries by Dujardin and Farbey

  1. 1. A-F Dujardin and D Farbey Sheffield Hallam University Managing boundaries: inducting students into online Master’s studies
  2. 2. Introduction • HE context: – transition to postgraduate study – online MA professional communication • A case study – question: how effective was the induction module? – framework: induction, boundaries and communities of practice
  3. 3. HE context • Transition – adult learners (Merriam 2003) – postgraduate transition (O’Donnell 2009) • Assumptions about postgrad students – have relevant degrees – remember academic practices acquired 5, 10, 20 years ago – are savvy about computers and ICT • know how to contribute to online learning communities?
  4. 4. Case study context • First online module (‘induction’) – Topic: ‘communication theory and planning’ – academic tasks – online community-building • 11 mature student participants – 2 women, very active online – 7 men, only 4 active online – 2 withdrawals • Key issues – online study: social and cognitive presence – postgraduate vs professional knowledge – status of writing
  5. 5. Qualitative approach • Questionnaire (6 respondents) • Analysis of naturally occurring data – emails – Blackboard discussions – Blackboard instructions (static and emergent)
  6. 6. Conceptual framework • Phase 1 – Communities of practice (Wenger 1998, 2000) – Forrester et al.’s matrix for evaluating induction (2005) – Bourdieu’s Homo Academicus (1988)
  7. 7. Communities of practice • “A community of practice defines what constitutes competence in a context” • Three elements to competence: – joint enterprise – engagement – repertoire of communal resources • Boundary between communities – “disquieting… humbling… explore the edge” – need bridges: people, artefacts, interactions
  8. 8. START OUT components of induction Social provide a welcoming atmosphere Transitional learner help with online learning Academic explain expectations and formalities Registration attend to admin issues Tutor support make apparent nature and level of tutor support Orientation provide a ‘tour’ of the course and uni Identify with Uni help students feel part of a community Tutors explain how, where, and when to communicate with tutors
  9. 9. Module design
  10. 10. How did students fare on the induction module? • high participation • social presence • no issue with the programme or the technology • Importance of the study guide • joint creation of knowledge
  11. 11. Social aspects • Welcoming atmosphere • uncomfortable about interactions – I think that students (on all modules) could benefit from guidelines on how to tactfully offer constructive criticism. I am aware that generic netiquette guidelines are available; perhaps they could be amplified and posted on all Arrivals lounge as part of the intro to each module. • unclear understanding about the level of social interaction – I feel at times, particularly in the group work, let-down by other members of the group. Although that maybe because they had ‘decided’ not to contribute. – I wasn’t really looking for any social aspects. I simply wanted to learn, and become a better tech communicator. • differences between men and women
  12. 12. Transition to e-learning • Expectations: • Helpful aspects – not attending uni – initial handholding – easy accessible data – feedback – regular support and – discussion guidance • Hard work but • Concerns enjoyable – isolation – the discussion board – tutor support promoted a – groupwork community of interest – self-motivation
  13. 13. Email Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Blogs No No No No No No Wikis No No Yes No Yes No Discussion lists No Yes Yes Yes No No Mailing lists No No Yes No Yes No Instant messaging No No Yes Yes Yes No Social networking No Yes Yes No No No
  14. 14. Academic study • Initial concerns – A fear of not understanding what is expected of me – Ability to make the grade – Academic writing and argument • Understood what academic study involves – The ability to read various texts and see connections that support, contradict, or raise questions that are still to be addressed. Thereafter, to develop an argument that lucidly exposes these connections while bringing to bear my own position on the argument. – A lot of hard work! Research & preparation particularly. – Field studies; Theoretical considerations; Literature research; Writing essays – Extracting the information from the discussions, readings and self- reflection on practice to form an opinion and argument that one can support. It’s a continuous process of learning. • Helpful aspects: – periodic tasks – feedback – academic writing
  15. 15. University / course member • Students felt part of the course – Its intensive task-based approach helped students to build a community spirit – Discussing key aspects of practice with others new to this level of study – Builds confidence and relationships – makes one feel that they are not alone in a new environment – Its intensive task-based approach helped students to build a community spirit • Students felt part of the university – Feel proud to be studying the MATC and proud of studying with the SHU – read regulations
  16. 16. One dissenting voice • Specific student profile: a separate case study in its own right • Some ideas to address student needs – analyse essay questions – discuss assessment criteria • differentiate between description and argument • use literature and examples – real-time meetings
  17. 17. Academic Literacies pointers • Reframe practices – explicit compare academic and professional writing practices • ‘new work order’ (Gee 1996, Belfiore 2004) – address the differences between ICT use at work and on a postgraduate course • task vs debate orientation • peers as source of knowledge – Some students contributed more than others and this, in my opinion, suppressed the potential for learning about the diversity in practice. – I think more ‘forced’ involvement is required in online discussions.
  18. 18. • Discuss prior experiences of learning – at university (lecture + exam ‘diet’) – at work: informally, in training courses – contrast with self-directed learning in a community – real-time vs asynchronous • Discuss power issues – Writing to a brief is not an issue – Critiquing is – and so is the idea of critiquing as the norm for academic writing – Having a voice / writing about writing • I want to be a better Tech Communicator not a better academic
  19. 19. Conclusion • Using the Communities of Practice framework, the induction module is reasonably successful in its present incarnation • An Academic Literacies critique suggests that more could be done to facilitate induction into postgrad online study
  20. 20. References • Barton, D. and Tusting, K. (2005) Beyond Communities of Practice: Language, Power and Social Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. • Belfiore, M. E., Defoe, T. A., Folinsbee, S., Hunter, J. and Jackson, N. (2004) Reading Work: Literacies in the New Workplace. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. • Bourdieu, P. (1988) Homo academicus. Cambridge: Polity. • Forrester, G., Motteran, G., Parkinson, G. and Slaouti, D. (2005) 'Going the distance: students’ experiences of induction to distance learning in higher education'. Journal of Higher and Further Education, 29 (4) 293-306. • Gee, J. P., Hull, G. and Lankshear, C. (1996) The New Work Order: Behind the Language of the New Capitalism. London: Allen & Unwin. • Lea, M. R. (1998) 'Academic literacies and learning in Higher Education: constructing knowledge through texts and experience'. Studies in the Education of Adults, 30 (2) 15. • Lea, M. R. (2005) Communities of practice in Higher Education: useful heuristic or educational model? In: Barton, D. & Tusting, K. (Eds.) Beyond Communities of Practice: Language Power and Social Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 180-197 • Lea, M. R. and Street, B. (1998) 'Student writing in Higher Education: an academic literacies approach'. Studies in Higher Education, 32 (2) 15. • Merriam, S. B., Courtenay, B. and Baumgartner, L. (2003) 'On becoming a witch: learning in a marginalized community of practice'. Adult Education Quarterly, 53 (3) 170-188. • O'Donnell, V. L. and Tobbell, J. (2007) 'The transition of adult students to Higher Education: legitimate peripheral participation in a community of practice?' Adult Education Quarterly, 57 (4) 312-328. • O'Donnell, V. L., Tobbell, J., Lawthorn, R. and Zammit, M. (2009) 'Transition to postgraduate study'. Active Learning in Higher Education, 10 (1) 26-40. • Street, B. V. (2003) 'What's 'New' in New Literacy Studies? Critical approaches to literacy in theory and practice'. Current Issues in Comparative Education, 5 (2). • Street, B.V (2004) 'Academic literacies and the ‘new orders’: implications for research and practice in student writing in higher education'. Learning and Teaching in the Social Sciences, 1 (1) 9-20. • Wenger, E. (1998) Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. • Wenger, E. (2000) 'Communities of practice and social learning systems '. Organization, 7 (2) 225-246.
  21. 21. Contacts • •