Learning community development on-line: A social capital perspective
Heather Elizabeth Duncan, The University of Saskatchewan , Canada
Doctor of Philosophy, The University of Saskatchewan . Awarded
The research question guiding this study was, how does community develop in an adult on-line learning environment, and how is it structured? Two frameworks were used to provide a foundation for the research, a communications model derived from the concept of social capital and McClure's (1998) group development model. The following research questions were derived from the two frameworks and guided the investigation. What are the communication patterns in this on-line learning community and how do they relate to the levels of technical, knowledge and identity resources that develop? How does social capital manifest itself in an adult on-line learning community? What factors impact on the participants' perceptions of the quality and meaningfulness of the learning experience? In relation to McClure's group development and issues model, in what ways does the on-line group develop?
Using a mixed methodology, the main focus was on qualitative data collection. Data included transcripts from bulletin board discussions, transcripts, emails, e-journals, on-line questionnaires and a final face-to-face interview. Participants included six rural and northern graduate students, the instructor and the researcher.
All learners in this study were in fulltime employment, which meant time was scarce. Peer interaction was mostly task related and mainly when mandated. Low levels of peer interaction limited the formation of networks of social capital. Participants were more committed to their own learning than to creating communal meaning, raising questions concerning expectations and optimum levels for collaboration in an on-line learning environment.
Factors that made the learning experience meaningful for participants included opportunities for self-reflection and self-expression, flexibility, increased technology awareness, and engagement with content that was relevant to their professional lives. Issues included initial student anxieties with technology and new ways of learning, as well as high instructor workload and frustrations with the WebCT delivery platform, highlighting the need for technical support and training for not only student participants but also instructors.
The group developed and regressed in a non-linear fashion that mirrored the issues that arose and the ways in which they were resolved or not. Evident were the unpredictable ways in which case study research evolves with the events that transpire, as well as the multi-faceted role of the researcher as a participant.
Duncan, H.E. Learning community development on-line: A social capital perspective. Doctor of Philosophy thesis, The University of Saskatchewan.
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