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Twenty Shades of Grey: Reflecting on Digital Realities and Digital Futures


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Keynote presentation at 'Digital Futures: A Symposium for ELESIG Members', Southampton, 2nd December, 2014.

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Twenty Shades of Grey: Reflecting on Digital Realities and Digital Futures

  1. 1. Twenty Shades of Gray: Reflecting on Digital Realities and Digital Futures Professor Mark Brown Director, National Institute for Digital Learning Dublin City University 2nd December, 2014
  2. 2. Set against the backdrop of the “Bridging the Distance Project”
  3. 3. Set against the backdrop of the “Bridging the Distance Project” …and the challenge of retention, progression and completion
  4. 4. Allan, I., & Seaman, J. (2014). Grade Change: Tracking Online Education in the United States. Babson Survey Research Group and Quahog Research Group, LLC.
  5. 5. 66 % 79%
  6. 6. ‘However, when we adjust for course level and do not focus on a particular group of students, Massey University and the Open University have comparable extramural course completion rates‘ (p.30). Guiney, P. (2014). Extramural students’ participation and achievement: Trends, patterns, highlights. New Zealand Ministry of Education. Wellington
  7. 7. What are the completion rates in your own institution?
  8. 8. The problem… • Large body of literature on first year • Gap in the literature on the experiences of first-time distance (online/off-campus) learners • Off-campus learners study under conditions far less common than campus-based learners • Emergence of online learning literature on student experience • Dearth of research that presents the learner voice
  9. 9. Research objective… To improve the supports and services available for first-time distance learners.
  10. 10. Research objective… To improve the supports and services available for first-time distance learners. • To investigate the experiences of being a first time distance learner ‘in their own words’ from a student perspective
  11. 11. Research objective… To improve the supports and services available for first-time distance learners. • To investigate the experiences of being a first time distance learner ‘in their own words’ from a student perspective • To develop a set of overarching principles for enhancing distance learner engagement and success; • To develop a conceptual framework for identifying the most effective use of various intervention tools, supports and resources at early stages of the study lifecycle.
  12. 12. Methodology… • Design-based research • Mixed method approach • Strong phenomenological dimension
  13. 13. Method… • Phase 1 - Audit of existing services • Phase 2 - Baseline and end of semester survey • Phase 3 - Stories of first-time distance learners • Obtained full human ethics approval process • 140 volunteers from pool of 850 potential participants • 20 participants broadly representive of distance learners
  14. 14. Participants… Gender Female (13) Male (7) Age Under 25 (4), 25-29 (4), 30-39 (6), 40-49 (4), 50-59 (2) Ethnicity Pakeha / European (12), Māori and/or Pasifika (8) Location A campus town (11), Other urban town (3), Remote (4), Overseas (2) Delivery Mode Distance only (17), Mixed mode (3) Total Papers (Units) Undergraduate: One (6), Two (6), Three (0), Four (6); Postgraduate (2) Discipline Business (8), Humanities (6), Education (3), Sciences (3) Prior Education High school (8), Diploma (2), Degree papers (5), Degree (5) Employment Full time (11), Part time (3), Casual (1), None (3), Full time mother (2) Dependents None (11), One (1), Two or three (5), Four or more (3)
  15. 15. Video Diaries… • Adapted from JISC (2007), Arnold & Riddle (2007) and Cashmore, Green & Scott (2010) • Aim for video diary of ≥ 5 m/pw for ≤ 6 wks • Actual video diaries were 2 – 16 m/pw for 7 – 16 wks • Participant withdrawals: 2 early, 5 in W7, 5 in W14, 8 in W16 • Data collection aided by ‘reflective prompt framework’
  16. 16. 30 – 39 years Maori 4 papers (module) College of Humanities Remote location Not employed 7 children Insights from first-year…
  17. 17. 30 – 39 years Maori / Pasifika 4 papers (module) College of Business Wellington FT employment 1 guardianship Insights from first-year…
  18. 18. 20 – 29 years European 2 papers (module) College of Humanities Urban location FT employment 0 children Insights from first-year…
  19. 19. 50 - 59 years Maori / European 2 papers (module) College of Business Auckland Seeking employment Insights from first-year…
  20. 20. 60+ years European 1 paper (module) College of Education Remote location Employed 3 days Insights from first-year…
  21. 21. Two broad groups… • Support Seekers (25%) • Lone Wolves (75%)
  22. 22. Support Seekers… “Moodle is very useful – I've managed to work my way around it; as well as the library website and the online tutorials.” “I went to Uni and I saw a counsellor and she was just awesome. She also put me in touch with the Teaching & Learning Centre. I came away from Uni this morning feeling so much more positive.” “My paper coordinator writes real mean in the forums... and there's been a couple of times I've wanted to write on there but I'm a bit scared of her reaction so I figure it out myself.”
  23. 23. Lone Wolves… “I think one of my papers had a contact course during semester break but because of work and stuff like that I didn't go... I couldn't make the time.” “Moodle is available but people's base fears of putting something out there and being wrong... it's very different to leaning over to a peer and checking for immediate reinforcement.” “I’ve been trying to integrate my wife in to talking about what I'm doing but it’s hard as it can be sometimes quite technical with writing essays and stuff.”
  24. 24. Life happens… "I've finished my paper (module), which is such a relief because, in the last six weeks, I just wasn't really interested in it. Other things in my life meant it went on the back-burner and was something that was frustrating and it got in the way of... well, life got in the way of the paper (module) really."
  25. 25. Three lessons… 1. Online/distance learning was perceived to enable study to fit around other life, work and family commitments; however, students have relatively little conception of the actual demands of studying by online/distance.
  26. 26. Three lessons… 2. Online/distance students that begin with well articulated study goals that are aligned with their wider aspirations and realistically balanced alongside life's other commitments also typically report active study orientations.
  27. 27. Three lessons… 3. Although learner stories affirm the importance of the first few weeks of study, there are ebbs and flows in the life of an online/distance student over the semester and a second critical at risk phase was identified in later weeks.
  28. 28. Metaphorically how can we use new digital technologies to provide caves, campfires, watering holes and mountain tops which promote a stronger sense of belonging and connectedness?
  29. 29. • Move away from a ‘goulash’ approach • Institutions need to analyse their retention strategies and ‘spot the leaks’ • Develop a framework informed by the literature to support and scaffold for student success across the study lifecycle
  30. 30. Pathway Intervention What do we do for failing students Secondary Intervention What do we do for at-risk students? Targeted/Selective Primary Intervention What do we do for targeted groups of students? General/Primary Intervention What do we do for all students? Adapted from Wilson (2009) Success Pyramid Wilson, K. (2009). Success in the first year: The impact of institutional, programmatic and personal interventions on an effective and sustainable first year experience. Paper presented at the First Year in Higher Education Conference, Brisbane.
  31. 31. Study Life Cycle Shillington, S., Brown, M., MacKay, A., Paewai, S., Suddaby, G., & While, F. (2012). Avoiding the goulash: Closing gaps and bridging distances. Open Learning: Journal of Open, Distance and eLearning, 27, (1), 65-80.
  32. 32. Final point…
  33. 33. Off Campus in Class Final point… Synchronous Asynchronous Off Campus out of Class On Campus in Class Acquisition Participation On Campus out of Class
  34. 34. “He [she] who asks a question is a fool for five minutes; he [she] who does not ask a question remains a fool forever.” Chinese Proverb
  35. 35. Contact Details @mbrownz