Negotiating Diverse Populations in Online Graduate Courses: Key Implications

Negotiating Diverse Populations in Online Graduate Courses: Key Implications

Patricia Webb Boyd (Arizona State University, USA) and Andrea J. Severson (Arizona State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2682-7.ch008
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This study uses Garrison et al.'s Community of Inquiry Model to analyze the difficulties that arose in an online English graduate course. Using the three presences (teacher, social, and cognitive) to understand the interactions and engagements between students, instructor, and course material, the chapter illustrates the primary need for strong teacher presence in student-centered learning environments, especially in online courses where traditional verbal and physical cues are not present. Without a strong teacher presence, the effective achievement of social presence and cognitive presence is hindered. Students need instructor modeling and direction in order to achieve the deep learning goals that are at the center of graduate education. The implications of the study are that teachers must carefully and flexibly design the course both at the beginning of the semester and throughout it as the demographics of the student population are illustrated in the online discussions.
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This study focuses on an analysis of the discussions in ENG 652: Writing and Popular Media, a 16-week online graduate level course taught by an English department professor. It was originally created for graduate students in the English department’s Rhetoric and Composition MA and Ph.D. programs but was open to any graduate student in the university. Two students were from that program while the rest were from other areas like Communications and Journalism. Initially, eleven students enrolled in the course. However, five of them dropped the course for a variety of reasons; six graduate students remained registered for the entirety of the course. At the center of the course was a focus on popular media, both the impacts that it has on our culture as well as the ways it can be used to teach writing at the university level. While the syllabus defined popular media in a broad way, the majority of the articles discussed in the course were focused particularly on social media such as Twitter, online fanfiction, and Facebook, along with the pedagogical application of these. The course was largely discussion based, with the majority of the work being done in weekly asynchronous online discussion forums. Thus, analyzing the ways in which the discussion forums progressed effectively illustrates the level of learning that did (and did not) occur throughout the course. The researchers of this study are the professor and one of the Ph.D. students of the course. When student comments are presented in the following discussion, they are represented through pseudonyms. Examples of exchanges in the online discussion board are included in this study to show some of the communication issues and conflicts that occurred throughout the semester.

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