Interpreting Experiences of Students Using Online Technologies to Interact with Content in Blended Tertiary Environments: A Phenomenological Study

Interpreting Experiences of Students Using Online Technologies to Interact with Content in Blended Tertiary Environments: A Phenomenological Study

Kimberley Tuapawa
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/IJDET.2017070106
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Through a phenomenological approach, this research aimed to make an interpretation of key stakeholders' EOT experiences, to establish their current EOT needs and challenges, and provide a basis from which to recommend methods for effective EOT support. It analysed a range of students' and teachers' EOT experiences, and then interpreted the meanings of these phenomena through an abstraction of local and global themes. The local themes developed a set of meanings that were specific to stakeholders' use of individual EOTs. This paper is the third in a series of six publications that presented the local themes. It documents the interpretations of students' EOT experiences with content, in reference to their use of six different EOTs: Learning management systems (LMS), an online library catalogue, lecture capture/web cast tools, wikis, online collaboration tools, and online video platforms. The interpretations also informed recommendations for the effective use of EOTs in student-to-content interactions to assist TEIs in their efforts to adapt to meet stakeholders' EOT needs.
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Educational online technologies (EOTs) have dynamically transformed the delivery of higher education, creating extraordinary opportunities for effective learning and teaching. In an era of unparalleled growth, their enhanced functionalities and affordances have revolutionised methods of knowledge access and participation, engendering significant advances across the tertiary education sector. Traditional learning spaces have evolved into dynamic blended tertiary environments (BTEs), and “technological innovations...and integration[s]” have opened opportunities to “real world experiences and gateways to more interactions” (Gupta, 2016, p. 1).

These digital transformations signal exciting prospects for teachers and students, the key stakeholders in BTEs. Predictions about future web-based learning suggest that virtual universities and off-campus sites are the trends in the future of higher education (Peppers, 2016), and as “the pace of change” rapidly accelerates, “hybrid classes will proliferate” (Anderson, Boyles, & Rainie, 2012, p. 17). This is now happening, as “millions of students [take] online courses … [giving] evidence that this modality is meeting a clear demand” (Allen & Seaman, 2015, p. 21). Similar forecasts suggest that the digital delivery of coursework via online technologies will revolutionise higher education (Anderson et al., 2012). Results already show that “since 2010, there has been an increase in the use of most technologies for learning” (Gosper, McKenzie, Pizzica, Malfroy, & Ashford-Rowe, 2014, p. 298). This growth has intensified with the proliferation of mobile technologies and emergence of mLearning (Asseo, Johnson, Chalapathy, & Costello, 2016; Davison & Lazaros, 2015).

Despite the significant growth and demand for online education, considerable obstacles impede the use of EOTs. Some of these barriers are attitudinal predispositions and institutional barriers, inadequacies in instructional design support (Panda & Mishra, 2007) and a “lack of training” or ineffective or insubstantial training (Merfert, 2016, p. 1). Others include resistance to change, ineffective EOT usage, lack of enthusiasm, technical constraints and accessibility (Tuapawa, 2016). These challenges pose a clear risk to the future success of BTEs (Moskal, Dziuban, & Hartman, 2013) and create difficulties for key stakeholders as they strive to deliver and engage in learning.

Understandings about EOT challenges have improved, through research that has focussed on technology integration into blended environments (Moore, 2013), affordances and effectiveness of learning technologies in higher education (Arenas, 2015; El-Khalili & El-Ghalayini, 2015), barriers to adoption of online learning (Bacow, Bowen, Guthrie, Lack, & Long, 2012) and e-learning challenges faced by academics (Islam, Beer, & Slack, 2015). However, while “our research foundation is rich” (Passey, 2013, p. 209), not all problems have been adequately identified and addressed.

The persistence of these challenges suggests that tertiary education institutes (TEIs) have experienced a gap in understandings about the reality of key stakeholders’ EOT needs. Over time, these needs have shifted and evolved, and in an environment of rapid technological change have not been understood and addressed effectively. The dynamic nature of the environment in which TEIs operate means that their relevance is dependent on their ability to evolve and adapt to meet their stakeholders’ needs, but doing this effectively requires that TEIs have current, in-depth understandings of their stakeholders’ EOT challenges, at a level that enables the delivery of informed, relevant, and meaningful support.

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