Extract from: Education in a Changing Environment 13

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Communication on the VLE

In order to “break the ice” (Online Socialisation Step 2 of the E-moderating model - figure 2), a free non-assessed discussion was facilitated. Some students felt very enthusiastic about it and posted very long and technical messages. The situation deteriorated once the same students had to contribute to an assessed discussion. At this stage the discrepancy of the students knowledge/experience made some of them uneasy about their contribution. Comments on this were as follows:

People felt out of their depth by online discussion forums, which knocked confidence. [Need for] closer control from lecturers or graduate teaching assistants to calm people down. Discussion forum guidelines are good but are they observed? It would be nice to mention these issues in the induction where dos and don’ts for online discussions will be explained…. Long postings are skipped [by some people] and only short, sharp points are read and responded to. Long postings usually have people digressing – long winded.

…Due to recent events in my personal life and the frustration of not being able to connect to the internet at an earlier date, I have decided not to return to the course this year. I have already achieved [X] but seeing what my fellow students were contributing online with all their experience in IT where mine is mainly educationally based, quite frankly, scared me and made me realise that I could be letting my ‘team’ down…

One student gave the latter comment as one of the reasons for leaving the course. The issue of governance of online communications was researched and discussed by Bell and Heinze (2004). In practice this issue was addressed in the second semester:

  • Lecturers were not using assessed online discussions (discussion boards are only used for student support)

  • Online discussion board guidelines were introduced

However, the damage had been done and the following are comments from the second semester focus group:

“There is a lack of communication on VLE” and

“I don’t like discussion boards because there is too much off topic communication”.

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