In line with global trends in higher education, many Australian universities are energetically embracing the concept of flexible online learning, which has significantly increased the number of students studying university courses through online and/or open-access delivery. This mode is highly utilised by non-traditional students, and is therefore an important avenue to fulfil Australian government policies aimed at equity of access. The opportunities afforded by online education have created a de-facto equity pathway without which many successful students would remain excluded from university study. Non-traditional students include those in regional or remote locations, those with work, family and other responsibilities and students with physical or mental health issues. Within a Qualitative/Interpretivist approach, my research utilises in-depth interviews and an analysis of students’ reflective work to develop a complex and nuanced picture of their experience with online study. The focus is on a core, first-year unit, designed to facilitate the successful transition of new-to-university students into academic life in an online environment. This acts as an instrumental case study (Stake, 2008) for examining how online, non-traditional students are affected by and cope with a learning environment formed by these broader policies and trends in higher education. Findings point to the transformative power of participation in university level study for successful online students. Key factors which facilitate students’ completion of the unit, and what this means to their futures, will be presented through the students’ own words revealing the stories behind the screens.
Andrea Dodo-Balu, Murdoch University, Australia
Stream: Education, Technology and Society: Technologies, Knowledge Creation and Access
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