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: investigating university students' transition to online distance learning in the health sciences

  • Helen Maree Wozniak

    Student thesis: Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) - CDU


    This research explores the online distance learning experiences of students studying health professional courses in the Australian higher education sector. Policies and technological advances have led to diverse student populations choosing flexible study options, while managing complex lives juggling work, home and study demands. This thesis investigates student engagement with orientation resources and advances theoretical understanding about student transition to online distance learning.

    Educational design research (EDR), a pragmatic research approach, provided the research framework. Design principles informed by social-constructivist and distance learning perspectives supported the creation of online orientation resources. These were then implemented with postgraduate health science students at one university, and later re-contextualised for development at a second university with undergraduate nursing students. A conjecture mapping process aligned to the three phases of EDR (analysis and exploration, design and construction, and evaluation and reflection) informed the research process. This enabled the key design features and intended outcomes to be identified and directed the analytical process. Mixed methods data sources, including learnin management system tracking statistics that captured student engagement with the resources, and other survey and interview data, assisted with the interpretation of meanings about how the students transitioned to online distance learning.

    Comparative analysis of the research conducted at the two universities led to both practical and theoretical outcomes. Six refined design principles provided evidence-based guidelines for educational designers developing orientation resources; suggesting that universities need flexible and varied approaches to support online distance learners. Transition was conceived as a multilayered concept, involving students adjusting to being a university student, managing the distance and online environment and re-positioning their occupational mindset, enabled by self-regulatory behaviours. The research also strengthened the iterative EDR framework. Conjecture mapping ensured the research process was responsive to new theoretical perspectives, changes in the university environments studied, and unanticipated research outcomes that emerged during the extended research project. The result was a robust systematic inquiry producing research outcomes that can be transferred to new contexts.
    Secondary Supervisor  :  Shane Dawson
    Date of AwardJan 2016
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorRose Mceldowney (Supervisor) & Ruth Wallace (Supervisor)

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