Roundtable Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Do your distance students feel connected to your university, courses or subjects?  A round table discussion about why you should know and care (#183)

Andrea l Crampton 1 , Angela T Ragusa 1
  1. Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, NSW, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

This round table will use key recommendations from our 2014 OLT seed grant, Exploring the role of technology in fostering sense of belonging in students studying by distance, to commence cross-institutional dialogue about the role distance students’ perceived social connection plays in student experience and academic progression.  From in-depth interviews with 120 distance students exploring technology usage and perceived connection to their courses, peers, lecturers and university, findings emerged that challenge existing assumptions driving educational practices promoting connection.   Topics explored include the perceived relevance and desirability of teaching technologies (audio lectures, online forums, social media) and non-academic social interactions with peers and teachers.   The capacity of each to foster student engagement in undergraduate teaching of practice-based and traditional courses was examined.  Participants overwhelmingly expressed a sense of connection was important for academic success.  Several statistically-significant relationships emerged, including a relationship between sense of connection and time spent studying.  Given widespread research identifying increased time spent studying affects academic performance, and increased institutional focus on enhancing effective and meaningful connections to encourage students’ prioritisation of academic tasks, this topic is practically and strategically worthwhile.  Our round table will commence with dissemination of 4 key considerations identified in our research (via a one-page handout).  This shall serve as the foundation for a practice-based discussion aiming to generate ideas that will assist participants, and their corresponding institutions, to implement or further investigate findings suitable to their environments.  We will encourage development/use of digital literacy relevant to students’ professional and life-long learning aspirations through exploration of how students’ sense of connection may be affected by: 1. technology choice and uptake 2. subject/course design 3. professional context.  Finally, the discussion leaders will seek to identify research collaborators interested in potentially progressing this research area and acknowledge the grant funding received from the OLT to support this initiative

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

Our presentation will address two of the key themes, namely exploiting emerging technologies to enable employability and educating graduates to be responsive and adaptable professionals.  More specifically, our roundtable will utilise results from our research to discuss how we may better prepare graduates to effectively communicate and engage with colleagues and content via technology in an increasingly geographically isolated digital workplace.  We will also examine how future professional and employment aspirations could be used to better foster effective forms of connections for students while they are studying.  Our discussions come from a position of having identified aspects of student’s perceptions of the value of connectedness and exploring current practices.  The recommendations which form the basis of our roundtable will be considered both in regards to current technologies as well emerging technologies.