A new DCU study carried out by Dr Orna Farrell and Dr James Brunton from the National Institute for Digital Learning (NIDL), looks at the factors that are most important to successfully engage with online students in the higher education sector. It is of particular importance given the recent pivot to remote learning due to the current health crisis.
The qualitative study, which followed 24 third-level DCU online students over one academic year, found that successful online student engagement was influenced by a number of factors, including peer community, engaging and supportive teachers, confidence, life load and course design.
For students, it found that the most challenging aspect of being an online learner is balancing one’s studies with other highly valued and time-consuming commitments, such as work, family and caring responsibilities. Time management and organisational skills were found to be key for online student success and engagement as these skills enabled students to balance their life load and study.
Study participants also placed a high value on the peer communities, both formal and informal, they formed over the course of the academic year as these communities engendered feelings of belonging and support.
The online lecturer played a very significant role in participants’ reported online learning engagement experiences. The data revealed that participants placed a high value on the support, reassurance and guidance provided by the module tutor.
Commenting on the findings, Dr. Orna Farrell, Assistant Professor and Programme Chair of DCU Connected Humanities and lead author of the study, said:
“The study highlights the importance of those supporting, teaching and designing courses to be cognisant of these factors that affect online student engagement.”
To read the full article: Farrell, O., Brunton, J. (2020). A balancing act: a window into online student engagement experiences. Int J Educ Technol High Educ 17, 25. https://doi.org/10.1186/s41239-020-00199-x