Reconceptualizing Postgraduate Research: An Online Blended Learning Approach

Reconceptualizing Postgraduate Research: An Online Blended Learning Approach

Maggie Hartnett (Massey University, New Zealand) and Peter Rawlins (Massey University, New Zealand)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7065-3.ch001
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The professional inquiry (a researcher training and development course) was introduced into the Master of Education program at Massey University, New Zealand in 2014 as a practitioner-based alternative to the research thesis pathway. In contrast with traditional, independent, time intensive models of postgraduate research supervision, the authors developed and implemented an innovative blended learning model of postgraduate research training and development to ensure the growing demand of future, predominantly distance, students would be met. The online, blended model developed and discussed here within the discipline of Education has the potential to be utilized across different disciplines and postgraduate programs including those at doctoral level. In its fifth year of delivery, the online community has grown from nine students and seven specialist academic advisors in the first cohort to 45 students and 27 academics in the current offering, ensuring an accessible and equitable research learning experience for all students.
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The use of digital technologies has become ubiquitous in today’s world. Few areas of everyday life are unaffected by the introduction of technology, including education. Within the Higher Education (HE) sector, the availability and uptake of distance and online courses has been steadily growing. The latest report from the US (Seaman, Allen, & Seaman, 2018) shows that in 2016 almost one in three (31.6%) higher education enrolments were for distance education courses. This is up from one in four (25.9%) in 2012 and has occurred at a time when overall enrolments in US higher education declined by 3.8%. The tertiary education sector within New Zealand has also seen the proportion of equivalent full time students (EFTS) in courses delivered using technology (that includes web-supported, web-enhanced, and web-based) gradually increase from the 2005-2009 period to the 2010-2014 period, regardless of the level of qualification (Guiney, 2016). At postgraduate level, the predominant mode of delivery is blended (defined as a mix of face-to-face and online learning in this context).

Given the rapid advances in digital technologies, the line between traditional and distance learning environments is blurring (evident in the different terminologies used in the previous paragraph), with similar technologies being used to support learning in both environments. This has led to the emergence of flexible/blended and mixed modes of learning that Bates (2015) conceptualised as a technology-based learning and teaching continuum from face-to-face (with no technology use) to fully online (distance) where there is no classroom or on-campus teaching. E-learning has been a commonly used term to describe anything on this continuum (though it has fallen out of favor in recent years) that incorporates digital resources and some form of technology-mediated communications in the learning process (Nicols, 2008). Therefore, it is important to define what is meant by online (distance) learning as it relates to the context of this chapter.

Online learning has its roots in distance education. The term fully online is used by Bates (2015) to distinguish distance courses where students must have access to the internet via an appropriate digital device to undertake a course of study. Ally (2008) also highlighted that there are many definitions of online learning that reflect the diversity of practice and technologies in use. He went on to define it in the following way:

Key Terms in this Chapter

Online Learning: The use of the internet to access resources to interact with course content, academics, and other learners and to obtain guidance and support throughout the learning process in order to construct knowledge and meaning.

Digital Badges: A digital indicator of an accomplishment, skill, or competency within the course.

Advisor: An academic staff member with subject specific expertise who provides advice and guidance to a student at predetermined points within the professional inquiry course.

Online Learning Community: A group of people who share mutual academic goals and purposes. Communication, collaboration, and a sense of belonging are important attributes of a thriving online community.

Research: A systematic exploration of a specified question.

Supervisor: The traditional model of research supervision where a student works independently from other students with advice and guidance provided by an individual or small group of academic experts.

Blended Learning: A mix of lecturer-led teaching with academic research guidance, research specific content with more generic content, lecturer-directed learning with more self-directed learning, structure and guidance with more flexible pathways, and independent and co-operative learning opportunities in an online environment.

Professional Inquiry: A postgraduate researcher training and development course designed to develop students’ skills and abilities to become consumers and producers of research.

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