From despair to somewhere: activating students in a distance learning environment

Karen Foley, Dave Middleton, Ian Fribbance

Abstract


Student engagement in part-time and distance learning is critical in terms of retention and progression. But ideas about engagement often focus on academic priorities and on students who collude with the concept of being “active” learners. To establish a virtual community called Student Connections the faculty of Social Sciences at The Open University held a one week online conference where students and academics presented their ideas. Supported by two audio downloads, a drama “This Student Life” and a news magazine “The Podmag”, students were encouraged to attend online ‘Activate sessions’ where they became part of a community and worked on collaborative extracurricular projects that were presented at the Student Connections conference. In reviewing the process of engagement it is proposed that there were four levels; ‘super-engaged’ ‘critically-engaged’, ‘passively-engaged’ and ‘none-engaged’. This paper includes a discussion about the importance of these groups in establishing a community and makes suggestions for further research into student engagement.

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