Communication and learning: How distance learners construct meaning in the computer conferencing environment
Martha A. Gabriel, University of Ottawa , Canada
University of Ottawa . Awarded
This study arose out of a concern for the adult learners who choose to study in computer conferencing courses offered via the World Wide Web. The numbers of these adult learners are burgeoning; universities are responding to the demand by placing ever-increasing numbers of courses online. However, this learning environment is a new one for many adult students and instructors. Therefore, the primary purpose of this study was to describe the salient features of communicating and learning in this environment, and to explore the factors which underpin the successful participation of adult learners in computer conferencing courses.
Twenty adult learners enrolled in two different computer conferencing courses in two universities located in different provinces in Atlantic Canada participated in this study. As well, the four instructors who delivered these courses were involved in the research study. The design of this qualitative study utilized multiple sources of data. The study entailed in-depth interviews conducted via telephone at two points—once early in the course, and a second time when the course was complete. In addition, information was collected in initial questionnaires and from the transcripts of the courses. A computer-assisted qualitative data analysis program was utilized to assist in the coding of the emerging themes. These emergent themes were incorporated into the protocol for the second set of interviews.
Results of the study indicate that the computer conference supported a shift in the roles of learner and instructor, as instructors functioned as facilitators and learners became more self-directed in their learning. However, this shift occurs on a continuum, and is dependent upon how the computer conferencing environment is organized. The potential of group work for supporting a constructivist learning environment in the computer conference emerged. The importance of clear communication, which can be supported by forging personal relationships with classmates in the computer conference also emerged as an essential component of achievement in the computer conference. And finally, the learners in this study expressed a strong sense of academic efficacy. They demonstrated a strong subjective assurance in their ability to succeed at the academic task which they had undertaken.
Gabriel, M.A. Communication and learning: How distance learners construct meaning in the computer conferencing environment. Ph.D. thesis, University of Ottawa.
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