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Rethinking support for the digital age: support for online learners from a teaching staff perspective

Although the internet has contributed to a rapid increase in online education provision and student numbers, the withdrawal rate in online settings is higher than that in face to face. Consequently, the need for adequate infrastructure and support systems for online education cannot be ignored. With a growing online student base, there is a need for tertiary organisations to be responsive and supportive to students who are completing their education outside of the traditional, face to face classroom scenario. However, within the tertiary organisation that this study takes place, support services are predominantly focused towards students who are studying face to face. The purpose of this research was to identify current thinking and practices of support for online students from a teaching staff perspective to contribute to the development of support for online students. As the main point of contact for students who are studying online with the organisation, tutors of online programmes were interviewed to identify how they currently support their students and in turn, enable them to progress with their education. Tutors were also interviewed to identify the organisational factors they believe should exist when supporting students who are studying online. This study identified that tutors believe that managerial staff who make decisions about offering online courses perceive these as an extension of face to face courses. As a result, the time and effort required to develop, teach and support online programmes and students is underestimated which causes challenges for teaching staff. Nevertheless, tutors in this study were committed to supporting their students and do this through providing timely feedback, encouraging online learning communities and self-directed learning. Tutors are driven to provide this level of support as they describe their students as having many commitments in addition to their studies. They also describe students as second-chance learners who may have had negative educational experiences in the past. This awareness of students’ circumstances drives tutors to provide support when students are studying which can be after hours or during weekends. Tutors also believe that support services should be more flexible and operate during these times. To compensate, tutors take on roles that they might not otherwise do in the face to face learning environment. However, such practices are challenging and may be unsustainable if the number of courses and student numbers are to increase. Tutors in this study would prefer a collaborative organisational approach to online education to ensure the services and resources required to develop, teach and support online programmes are provided in a seamless manner. This study does not suggest that support services are made available 24/7; rather, it recommends that the organisation first needs to clarify their position and staff roles in online education to ensure those who develop, teach and support online programmes have a shared understanding of the resources, time and effort required for these programmes.
Type of thesis
Lewis, N. (2014). Rethinking support for the digital age: support for online learners from a teaching staff perspective (Thesis, Master of Education (MEd)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/9296
University of Waikato
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