Title: What Are We Doing to Support Our Online Students?
Presenter(s): Dr Nicole Sugden, Dr Richard Tindle
School of Psychology, Faculty of Business, Justice and Behavioural Studies
Type: Interactive Discussion
When: Wednesday, November 18th 2020 @ 3pm – 4pm
Abstract: Enhancements in mobile learning technologies has meant that students can study online in any location, at a time that suits them. As such, online study has become increasingly popular particularly with mature age students, Indigenous students, students with disabilities, students from regional and remote areas, and those wishing to study part-time around work, family, and life commitments (Stone & O’Shea, 2019). However, juggling study around these competing commitments is frequently cited as the primary reason for dropping out of university, with part-time and online students having some of the highest rates of attrition (Cherastidham et al., 2018).
Studies on the experiences of online students have revealed that students often feel isolated in the online environment, they perceive online resources as inferior quality to on-campus materials (e.g. recorded on-campus lectures), and report difficulties with technology, time management, and affordability of textbooks as barriers to their learning (Devlin & McKay, 2016; Stone & O’Shea, 2019). In our recent study, the top five “very high needs” indicated by students were the need for guidance from lecturers about assessment tasks, help with feeling stressed, opportunities to discuss content with lecturers, help with feeling anxious, and being able to connect with other students.
The challenges associated with online study are likely to have been exacerbated by covid-19, with increasing numbers of students applying for special consideration due to additional stress from working from home, financial strain, increased caring responsibilities, and social isolation. Moreover, these stressors place students at a greater risk for mental health issues that may impact upon their ability to study. Indeed, our recent study shows that 58.4% of university students were experiencing high to very high levels of psychological distress during 2020 (low = 20.8%; moderate = 20.8%; high = 33.3%; very high = 25.1%).
Given these findings, we need to look at ways to better support our online students. There are a number of strategies that can be implemented to help meet the needs of our online students. For example, increasing teacher presence and facilitating interactions between peers, designing high-quality resources tailored for online delivery, and personalising learning have been linked to student engagement (O’Shea et al., 2015; Stone, 2017; Stone & O’Shea, 2019). A transition pedagogy focusing on student diversity, scaffolding learning in a way that develops students’ skills (e.g. early stakes assessment tasks), and communication with students at risk may also help to better support our students (Kift, 2009).
This interactive discussion will therefore provide a platform for academics and other staff to share experiences about the needs of our students and challenges that our online students are facing, particularly in the context of covid-19. Under the conference themes of “Maintaining well-being through uncertainty: Building resilience” and “Student success: Thriving and succeeding beyond 2020’s challenges”, this discussion will also allow participants to share experiences from their learning and teaching and share strategies that they have found helpful for supporting their students.