Online, Face to Face or Blended what tutorial delivery do students want in distance education?

Delaney, L., Brunton, J., Costello, E., Fox, S., Morrissey, A., O'Keeffe, N. and Walsh, E. (2012) Online, Face to Face or Blended what tutorial delivery do students want in distance education? [Conference Proceedings]


Virtual classrooms create the possibility of delivering off campus education in innovative and dynamic ways (Cakir 2004). They also address another problem for distance education providers – that of low attendance at face to face tutorials (Walsh et al, 2011). However, little is known about student preference regarding tutorial delivery. This study begins to address the research gap by examining the views and preferences of students regarding tutorial delivery. This paper considers two academic years; 2011-2012 when online synchronous tutorials were employed for the first time on all Oscail programmes, both at undergraduate and postgraduate level. We outline the findings of a survey regarding student experience of engaging with online tutorials during 2011-2012. We then review statistics from the 2012-2013 academic year when all undergraduate students were asked to choose between three tutorial delivery options; completely online, blended or face to face. Returning student preferences are analysed in the light of their experience of online tutorials in the previous academic year. Their preferences are then compared and contrasted to the preference of new students, who have little if any experience of online course delivery.Tutorials provide an invaluable opportunity for social interaction in distance education. We know, both intuitively and from the literature, that social interaction can help to overcome isolation and support retention (Salmon 2000, Simpson 2003). Social interaction also facilitates knowledge construction (Vygotsky 1978, Habermas 1979). However, we also know that distance education students have many demands on their time (Salmon 2000, Simpson 2003) and the reason they cannot attend face to face tutorials can be the very same reason why they cannot attend live online tutorials (work, family commitments). A major challenge for distance education therefore, is to encourage tutorial attendance in order to support communication, collaboration and learning.The research findings illustrate that, while students have a preference for face to face tutorials, they acknowledge they will have difficulty in committing to attendance. They like the fact that online tutorials are recorded and archived. However students will only attend live online tutorials if they are structured in a way that they, as learners, find engaging. This has implications for social interaction, knowledge construction and learning in distance education. In the final analysis, returning students opt for blended tutorial delivery. New students, on the other hand, opt almost entirely for online tutorial delivery. While this research is preliminary it has implications not only for how tutorials are provided in distance education but also how to best structure tutorials in order to enhance attendance and learning.This paper begins with a discussion of the role of tutorials in distance education and how the availability of online synchronous web based technology has the potential to transform tutorial provision. We review the literature in relation to communication and collaboration in education and acknowledge that there is a need to address the dearth of literature in relation to student preferences for tutorial provision in distance education. We outline our research methodology together with the conclusions and implications drawn from the research.

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