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Student Socialisation within Online Distance Education Programmes – Starting at the Start.


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Within Oscail – DCU Distance Education, a pilot project was carried out that utilised a virtual

learning environment (Moodle) to create a space where students began their socialisation

into the distance education context a number of months before they were formally

inducted into their programmes. The aim of this project was to identify means to increase

retention and progression in first year, undergraduate distance education students by

introducing them, at as early a point as possible, to a socialisation programme made up of

elements described by the existing literature and research as positively impacting on the

first year experience. This pilot project had a number of goals: to create a student-focused

process; to create a positive impression of the institution; to reduce anxiety for new

students; to facilitate socialisation; to inform students of their rights/responsibilities;

introduce students to academic and organisational skills; and, most importantly, to support

students in their transition to distance education. Thirty-five students engaged with the

course, exploring its contents and interacting with each other and a dedicated tutor.

Qualitative data has been gathered from a number of students, who are now at the end of

their first year on two undergraduate courses. Data collection, using a written answer

booklet that participants complete, focused on the students’ experiences of the pre-

induction socialisation Moodle course as well as their first year experiences more generally.

The data is currently being analysed using Thematic Analysis. The results of this data

analysis will inform future iterations of the Pre-induction Socialisation Moodle course.

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Student Socialisation within Online Distance Education Programmes – Starting at the Start.

  1. 1. Student Socialisation within Online Distance Education Programmes – Starting at the Start Dr James Brunton, Noeleen O’Keeffe, Eamon Costello, Seamus Fox , Elaine Walsh, Lorraine Delaney, Dr Anne Morrissey, Oscail, Dublin City University, Ireland Facilitating Pre-induction Socialisation This on-going project has a number of goals: to create a student-focused socialisation process; to create a positive impression of Oscail – DCU Online Education; to reduce the anxiety of new students; to facilitate socialisation; to inform students of their rights and responsibilities; introduce students to the academic and organisational skills needed to succeed in third level education; and, most importantly, to support the student in their transition to higher education. Added to these was the goal to facilitate socialisation at as early a point as possible, i.e. a number of months before these students would begin their programmes of study. These goals became the focus of the project because the existing research and literature indicates that this focus will facilitate successful socialisation in, and identification with, the new context into which the students are entering, and specifically from an educational perspective, that retention and student success can be improved. A Moodle course was created to which applicants who had indicated serious intent to become undergraduate distance education students were directed through an email invitation containing a description of the course, its purpose and instructions as to how to log in. The elements making up the Moodle course (see table 1) were designed to facilitate an initial, positive socialisation into the online distance education context, which could then be reinforced by the start-of-year induction processes. In year one thirty-five applicants logged into the course, exploring its contents and interacting with each other and/or a distance education tutor in discussion forums. In year two thirty-five applicants logged into the course. Activity Rationale Supporting theory Welcome message & ‘What to think about’ Guide  Break the ice  Link the present to a desired, positive future and prescribe norms for their future student- identity  Reduce fears and anxiety caused by entry shock Education  Tinto (1987)  Yorke (2004) Social/Organisational Psychology & Identity Studies  Louis (1980), Van Maanen and Schein, 1979, Wanous, 1992 – reducing entry shock  Cioffi and Garner (1996) – making an active commitment  Orbach, Mikulincer, Stein and Cohen, 1998, Baumeister, 1990 – facilitate the creation of a coherent future identity Moodle Discussion Forums, facilitated by a distance education tutor  Encourage socialisation between learners  Encourage socialisation between learners and programme team staff Education  Tinto (1987) Social/Organisational Psychology & Identity Studies  Kim et al, 2005 – building relationships between new entrants and more senior context members  Bauer and Green, 1998 – general socialising  Saks and Ashforth, 1997 – management of roles during socialisation Introduction to Study skills  Provide learners with a positive set of expectations that the organisation has for them  Make learners aware that there are tools they need to have in order to succeed in their education goals  Begin to facilitate the learners in their development of those tools Education  Cook & Rushton (2009)  Yorke (2004)  Cueso Social/Organisational Psychology & Identity Studies  Paulsen and Feldman, 2007, Schunk and Zimmerman, 1997 – sophisticated beliefs about knowledge and learning Examples of Course Content and Assessment  Provide learners with a positive set of expectations that the organisation has for them  Reduce fear and anxiety Education  Yorke (2004) Social/Organisational Psychology & Identity Studies  Paulsen and Feldman, 2007, Schunk and Zimmerman, 1997 – sophisticated beliefs about knowledge and learning  Louis (1980), Van Maanen and Schein, 1979, Wanous, 1992 – reducing entry shock Table 1 Facilitating Pre-induction Socialisation Distance Education and Technology Universities with a commitment to online distance education tend, of necessity, to be at the forefront of adopting new technologies to improve the teaching and learning experience of their students (Cakir and Basak, 2004). Technology can provide online distance education students with enhanced education delivery together with an opportunity for students to construct knowledge socially, an opportunity often missing in traditional distance education. There is a positive link between participating in online environments and academic achievement (Hrastinski, 2009). Additionally, technology provides opportunities for social interaction and knowledge construction both found to contribute positively to higher order learning (Vygotsky, 1975) and successful completion (Rosenberg 2001, Salmon 2000). Retention, Progression and the First Year Experience As first year is the critical time for student attrition, educationalists such as Tinto and Yorke take the view that “institutions are likely to maximise their students’ chances of success if they pay particular attention to the first year experience” (Yorke & Longden, 2004, p. 136). Yorke’s guidelines for promoting student success address the multi-faceted causes of student attrition by considering what institutions can do, what students can do and what the higher education system can do. Key components are information and advice pre-entry, adopting a welcoming approach, having an effective induction, socialization, supportive environment for learning including assessment and programme structures, clear expectations, value teaching, support academic transition to HE, encourage and develop learner autonomy. Yorke’s guidelines deal with academic and social readiness as well as the institutional response to first years (Yorke & Longden, 2004). The University of Ulster’s Student Transition And Retention (STAR) project, coordinated by Tony Cook and Brian Rushton, and its associated The Guidelines for the Management of Student Transition document provide useful guidelines when revising induction, transition or socialisation processes. The basic STAR guidelines for induction are: • Induction activities should familiarise students with the local area, the campus and its support services • Induction activities should highlight students’ academic obligations and the obligations of the staff to the students • Induction activities should support the development of those independent study habits suitable for higher education. • Induction events should provide the foundations for social interactions between students and the development of communities of practice • Induction activities should promote the development of good communication between staff and students (STAR, 2005) Socialisation: Organisational Psychology and Identity-Studies Through the process of socialising an individual into a specific context the individual may acquire the attitudes, behaviour and knowledge needed to participate as a functioning member of that context (Bauer, Morison and Callister, 1998; Van Maanen and Schein, 1979). As an individual creates a new identity, for example a new student identity, they are susceptible to influence due to the uncertainty regarding what the new context may require of them (Ashforth and Saks, 1996). Entrants, who progress beyond initial difficulties, without deciding to leave that context, may then learn the ropes and develop a more stable identity. In this way they move from being a peripheral participant to being a central participant, as they increase their level of identification with, and the amount of influence they have within, that context (Campbell-Clark, 2000; Lave and Wegner, 1991). The context into which the individual is entering can facilitate stable identity-creation by engaging in effective socialisation strategies (Bauer, Morrison and Callister, 1998; Cote and Levine, 2002). On-going Work Data-collection, from semi-structured interviews, and data-analysis, using a thematic analysis analytic approach, is currently on-going in this project. Data is being collected both from students who logged into the Moodle Course and from students who did not, in order to compare the narratives they construct relating to their first year experiences. Literature Cited: Ashforth, B. E., and A. M. Saks. (1996). Socialization tactics: Longitudinal effects on newcomer adjustment. Academy of Management Journal, Vol. 39, 1, pp. 149-178 Bauer, T. N. and S. G. Green. (1994). Testing the combined effects of newcomer information seeking and manager behaviour on socialization. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 83, 11, pp. 72-83 Bauer, T. N., E. W. Morrison, & R. R. Callister. (1998). Organizational Socialization: A Review and Directions for Future Research. Research in Personnel and Human Resource Management, Vol. 16, pp. 149-214 Baumeister, R. F. (1990). Suicide as escape from the self. Psychological Review, Vol. 97, 1, pp. 90-113 Campbell-Clark, S. (2000). Work/family border theory: A new theory of work/family balance. Human Relations, Vol. 53, 6, pp. 747- 770 Cakir, S. and Basak, H.H. (2004) Creating a Virtual Classroom for Interactive Synchronous Web Education for Dokuz Eylul University. European Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning Cioffi, D., & Garner, R. (1996). On doing the decisions: effects of active versus passive commitment and self-perception. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 22, pp. 133-44 Cook, A., & Rushton, B. (2009). How to Recruit and Retain Higher Education Students. London: Routledge Cote, J. E. and C. G. Levine. (2002). Identity formation, agency and culture: A social psychological synthesis. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Cuseo, J. (N.D). Academic-Support Strategies for Promoting Student Retention & Achievement During The First-Year of College. Retrieved August 9, 2011, from STAR: Hrastinski, S. (2009). A theory of online learning as online participation. Computers & Education 52, 78–82. Lave, J., and E. Wegner. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Louis, M. R. (1980). Surprise and Sensemaking: What Newcomers Experience Entering Unfamiliar Organizational Settings. Administrative Science Quarterly, 25: 226-251 Orbach, I., M. Mikulincer, D. Stein and O. Cohen. (1998). Self-representation of suicidal adolescents. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, Vol. 107, 3, pp. 435-439 Paulsen, M. B. and K. A. Feldman. (2007). The conditional and interaction effects of epistemological beliefs on the self-regulated learning of college students: Cognitive and behavioural strategies. Research in Higher Education, Vol. 48, 3, pp. 353-401 Rosenberg, M.J. (2001) E-learning: Strategies for Delivering Knowledge in the Digital Age. London: McGraw-Hill Saks, A. M., and B. E. Ashforth, (1997). Organizational socialization: making sense of the past and present as a prologue for the future. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, Vol. 51, pp. 234-279 Salmon, G. (2000) E-moderating, The Key to Teaching and Learning Online. London: Kogan course Schunk, D. H. and B. J. Zimmerman. (1997). Social origins of self-regulatory competence. Educational Psychologist, Vol. 32, pp. 195–208 STAR. (2005). Guidelines for the management of student transition. Retrieved August 9, 2011, from Tinto, V. (1987) Leaving College: Rethinking the Causes and Cures of Student Attrition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Tinto, V. (N.D.). Taking Student Retention Seriously: Rethinking the First Year of College. Retrieved from Van Maanen, J. and E. H. Schein. (1979). Toward of Theory of Organizational Socialization. Research in Organizational Behaviour, Vol. 1, pp. 209- 264 Vygotsky, L.S. (1975 ed.) Mind in Society: the Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Ed. M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner and E. Souberman Cambridge Mass: Harvard University Press. Wanous, J. P. (1992). Organisational entry: Recruitment, selection and socialisation of newcomers. Reading, MA: Addison-Weasley Yorke, M., & Longden, B. (2004). Retention and Student Success in Higher Education. London: Society for Research into Higher Education & OUP. For further information please email