DEHub Research Projects/DEHubMassey University

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In their own words: Learning from the experiences of first time distance students
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Introducing the Massey University project

Background to the Project

This project investigates the supports and services available for first-time distance learners with a strong phenomenological dimension. It takes place against a backdrop of significant challenges facing distance education in Australasia in which issues of recruitment, attrition (retention) and completion rates have come into sharp relief. The intention of this project is to go beyond the current literature which is dominated by institution-centric studies by producing a set of research-led deliverables that will improve the supports and services available for first-time distance learners.


Importantly, the research builds on previous work and attempts to addresses a significant gap in the literature. In particular, it seeks to document and learn from the experiences of first-time distance learners whose specific needs are largely ignored in previous research. Having said that, the research was partly inspired by a JISC funded study in which students in their own words describe their experiences of new technology along with a longitudinal project involving free-form video diaries by undergraduate students at the University of Leicester. Closer to home the research is set in the backdrop of Kift's (2009) ground breaking work on enhancing the first year student learning experience in Australian universities. It also draws on the daily experience method which Riddle (2008) describes in detail in his resource kit and Krause et. al, (2010) decade long survey of first-year students in Australian universities. Although informed by this work, the research is unique because of the specific focus on first-time distance learners. The emphasis on distance education is what distinguishes the study from previous research on the lived experience of first-time university-level students.

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What we aim to achieve

Research Objective

The study has been framed under the following guiding question:

     • What skills, supports and processes are required by learners in the new ICT distance learning environments to ensure successful learner outcomes?

More specifically, the major aims of this project are:

    (a) To investigate the experiences of being a first time distance learner ‘in their own words’ from a student perspective;

    (b) To develop a set of overarching principles for enhancing distance learner engagement and success;

    (c) To develop a conceptual framework for identifying the most effective use of various intervention tools, supports and resources at early stages of the study lifecycle.


Project Deliverables

The project will achieve the following:

1. A report to the DEHub which will includes:

      - a synopsis of the literature

      - a student success audit and comparison of the two institutions support strategies

      - at least 10 thematically analysed case studies or learner stories exploring the experiences and reflections of first-time distance learners

      - a set of principles for enhancing the success of first time distance learners based on insights gained and the research literature

      - a conceptual framework that draws on the literature and known strategies and which identifies a range of supports, interventions and resources at different points in the study lifecycle

2. The development of a Student Guide to Successful Distance Learning incorporating the key lessons learnt from the research

3. A Learner Success Colloquium jointly hosted by Massey University and Charles Sturt University, open to DEHub partners, to share the experiences and research findings

4. At least one conference presentation based on the study at an appropriate professional conference (outcome E) (e.g., HERDSA, DEANZ, ODLAA., ASCILITE, etc).



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