The Role of Interactive Web Broadcasts in Fostering Distance Learning Students’ Engagement with Practical Lab and Fieldwork

Brown, Venetia Amanda (2023). The Role of Interactive Web Broadcasts in Fostering Distance Learning Students’ Engagement with Practical Lab and Fieldwork. PhD thesis The Open University.



Practical work in science and technology disciplines is crucial for students’ understanding and mastery. For educators who teach those disciplines at a distance and for students who learn remotely, this endeavour may be challenging.

The study presented in this thesis investigates the use of Interactive Web Broadcasts (IWBs) in five undergraduate practical science and technology modules at The Open University. The study examines the reasons for using IWBs, as well as the strategies and types of interactions that staff and students use to engage and interact with one another. The study gathered perspectives from academics (n=18); associate lecturers (n=10); technical production team (n=3); students (n=88), and an external guest expert about the purposes, strategies and motivations of participating in IWBs. The study used a qualitatively mixed-methods design. An adapted protocol of Flanders’s Interaction Analysis Categories was used to analyse the interaction patterns in the web broadcast transcripts and text-chat logs, and a discourse analysis coding scheme was applied to analyse the text-chat. Student online questionnaires were administered towards the end of the modules to capture the student perceptions of IWBs. Student interviews and staff focus groups were also conducted to gain a fuller picture of experiences of using and engaging with IWBs.

Findings show that the purposes and aims of using IWBs are to facilitate student engagement, foster a sense of community, and demonstrate an authentic practice of the sciences in real-world contexts. The communicative strategies were primarily affective and met students’ interests and expectations. The IWBs mitigated feelings of isolation that are common in distance education environments. IWBs had positive impacts on professional teaching practices and fostered collegiality and collaboration among staff. The findings are relevant to other distance and traditional campus-based universities that teach practical science and technology, those who teach online using synchronous technology-mediated systems, and those who are interested in student engagement and practical work.

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