The Role of Web Broadcasts to Develop Online Learning Communities in STEM Modules

Brown, Venetia; Collins, Trevor and Braithwaite, Nicholas (2020). The Role of Web Broadcasts to Develop Online Learning Communities in STEM Modules. In: Horizons in STEM Higher Education Conference: Making Connections, Innovating and Sharing Pedagogy, 1-2 Jul 2020, University of Nottingham – virtual.



Practical science teaching and learning in an online and distance environment can be a challenge due to not being co-located on-site and with the scientific equipment. While interactive screen experiments and remote laboratories can provide practical activities at a distance, there is a need to bring spatially separated students and lecturers together to relate to each other (Lowenthal & Dennen, 2017) and experience science in action (Lambourne, 2007).

To provide this opportunity, the Open University uses interactive web broadcasts to allow students to observe and engage in laboratory and field-based science while promoting a sense of community, interest and engagement. In these live broadcasts, large cohorts of students use synchronous or real-time text-chat and question-and-answer widgets to interact with their lecturer during practical science experiments and demonstrations. Students ask and answer questions through the text-chat, and the collated responses to the widgets are used by the lecturer to check the students’ understanding and make decisions regarding the experiments.

This research is adopting a mixed-methods research approach to evaluate how web broadcasts are being used to enhance community building across the STEM disciplines. A pilot study investigated the extent to which the web broadcasts supported learning and influenced students’ sense of community. Student questionnaires were administered, and two staff members for two modules interviewed. Findings show most students perceived the web broadcasts as useful to their learning and that the synchronous tools provided an opportunity for student engagement. Open-ended survey responses revealed students found the broadcasts enhanced a sense of community and removed the remoteness of solitary study. Staff interviews revealed lecturers used the broadcasts for different pedagogical purposes; to involve students in an experimental process or to support formative assessments.

Multiple case-studies are being conducted for several STEM modules and will further explore the motivations, online interactions and perspectives of audio-visual production teams, lecturers and students. Descriptions of the planning and production phases will draw upon observational notes and comments from the production team and lecturers. Interaction analysis of the broadcasts and text-chat transcripts will be used to classify lecturer and student behaviours. A thematic analysis of the text-chat will identify the ways students and lecturers interact with each other. Interaction data (i.e. the widgets, system data logs and text-chat transcripts) will be collected to examine student participation. Students’ perceptions of the broadcasts and perceived sense of community will be collected through questionnaires. Data will be triangulated with the findings from staff and student focus groups.

The intended outcomes will be to compare results on the effectiveness of interactive broadcasting and develop guidelines and recommendations on the pedagogical and social features supported by web interaction and broadcasting technologies.


Lambourne, R. (2007). Laboratory-based teaching and the physics innovations centre for excellence in teaching and learning. European Journal of Physics, 28(3), S29–S36.

Lowenthal, P. R., & Dennen, V. P. (2017). Social presence, identity, and online learning: Research development and needs. Distance Education, 38(2), 137–140.

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