Scaffolding Extracurricular Online Events to Support Distance Learning University Students

Foley, Karen and Marr, Liz (2019). Scaffolding Extracurricular Online Events to Support Distance Learning University Students. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2019(1), article no. 17.



Studies about effective practice in Higher Education (HE), student retention, progression and attainment suggest that student engagement is a major factor in success. A sense of belonging to a community of students and academics is seen as key to creating effective engagement. Such studies have identified interventions that have proved successful in traditional HE contexts; however, ideas of belonging and community are considered problematic in distance learning contexts. Preliminary work by the doctoral research author showed that many Open and Distance Learning (ODL) students were successful in their studies without identifying as a student or interacting socially with others, calling into question the extent to which belonging and community are relevant in part-time and distance learning settings. In 2014, The Open University developed a platform, the Student Hub Live (SHL), to facilitate academic community. This research focuses on the value of attending the live online interactive events at the SHL that support part-time distance learning students outside the curriculum, and relating to their studies. Using an ethnographic approach and grounded theory methods, chat logs of events were analysed and the emergent themes informed semi-structured interviews with six participants. The overall findings were that although the curriculum was often a primary focus for students, learning how to apply academic skills more generally and learning from other students is important in ODL. The findings are relevant to other distance and face-to-face HE providers that are keen to engage students in virtual extracurricular spaces to support learning.

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