A case study of the use of computer conferencing at the Open University

Mason, Robin D. (1989). A case study of the use of computer conferencing at the Open University. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.0000dc7f


This case study is set within the theoretical framework of distance education, and is centred on the first large-scale use of computer conferencing for distance education at the Open University. The concepts of independence and autonomy, of the quasi-industrialisation of large distance teaching universities, and of interaction with learners, are taken as the frameworks for analysing the success of this application of the medium. The hypothesis concerning the convergence of traditional and distance education systems is given further support by the introduction of this new technology.

The perspectives of the students who used conferencing as part of their course on Information Technology, the tutors who used conferencing for tutoring the course, and the course team who designed and wrote the course, and then maintained it with conferencing, are the central areas of investigation and analysis in this study. Qualitative data - from interviews, observation and conference content, is used along with quantitative data from user-generated statistics, from surveys and from the course database.

The success of the application is analysed in three ways: its effectiveness as a mass distance teaching medium, its value as a medium for tutoring, and its use as a minor component of a multi-media course.

The results show that computer conferencing can be used with large numbers of students mastering the system at a distance, though not necessarily using it interactively. The medium is very successful for certain tutoring duties - support, advice and information exchange, and potentially for interactive discussion. However, as a minor component of a course, it is too powerful and too time consuming to be successful.

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