Conference Papers

Developing supportive online environments: Exploring the experiences of non-traditional students enrolled in higher education

As a result of the growth in online learning (Canadian Virtual University, 2012; Kanuka, 2008; White, Warren, Faughnan, & Manton, 2010), non-traditional students are able to engage in post-secondary studies in greater numbers. With this development comes the need to strengthen existing support structures in online environments to enable individuals to reach their goals. Building on an online undergraduate orientation initially offered to in 2006, a revised module called The Link was placed at the start of the Master of Arts in Learning and Technology program at a university in Western Canada. Through a variety of activities embedded in the non-credit module, graduate students were encouraged to take part in program-, school-, and university-level orientation, as well as to share their experiences and gain an understanding of how their diverse contexts could strengthen the cohort. Using a mixed-methods approach, which included Likert scale and open-ended questions, the perceptions of The Link participants were explored in this small-scale case study. Preliminary findings point to the benefits found by students of taking part in activities that gave them the ability to connect and communicate prior to the beginning of the program. However, it was clear that there was a need to have a flexible approach to synchronous technology-enabled sessions, as well as ensure activities were practical in nature, and introduce students to studying in online teams. The feedback provided by participants will allow us to further enhance the module, thereby allowing students from diverse backgrounds to benefit from a supportive educational experience.

Axe, J. (2015) 'Developing supportive online environments: Exploring the experiences of non-traditional students enrolled in higher education', paper presented to The 11th Annual Conference of the British Education Studies Association (BESA), 25–26 June, viewed 13 August 2020, <https://educationstudies.org.uk/?p=9058>