Academic journal article Journal of Distance Education (Online)

Graduate Student Experiences On- and Off-Campus: Social Connectedness and Perceived Isolation

Academic journal article Journal of Distance Education (Online)

Graduate Student Experiences On- and Off-Campus: Social Connectedness and Perceived Isolation

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

The need to develop alternative delivery mechanisms for instruction in higher education extends back to the 1950s, when increased student enrollment was beginning to limit on-campus space (Curtis, 1957). Early technology-based distance education pioneers focused their efforts first on forms of educational broadcasting, such as instructional television. With the advent of the Internet, emphasis shifted to online-based distance education methods, which have evolved from simple web pages to sophisticated interactive course management platforms supplemented by video, social media and mobile applications. Today, distance education is growing at a rate more than 10 times that of traditional higher education (Allen & Seaman, 2011). Extensive efforts have been made to assess the technology, learning outcomes, student satisfaction and faculty acceptance of distance education (Allen et al., 2002; Allen & Seaman, 2011; Rieger, Turner & Barrick, 2011). As a result, a number of best practice options now exist for individual distance education courses or programs that utilize quality assurance scorecards (Sloan-C, 2012), rubrics (Quality Matters(TM), 2011) and accreditation standards (SACS, 2012).

Although distance education student performance can be comparable (Miller & Pilcher, 2001; Spooner et al., 1999) or even superior to traditional/synchronous classroom teaching (Bernard et al., 2004; Means et al., 2009), there is evidence that online students feel a weaker sense of connectedness and belongingness (Bollinger & Inan, 2012; Rovai, Wighting & Liu, 2005), and university attachment (Lane and Henson, 2012). The level of social presence in a distance education setting significantly affects the degree of learning interaction and achievement (Kim, 2011; Wei, Chen, & Kinshuk, 2012). Having developed and tested a social presence instrument, Kim (2011) reported factor constructs of social presence to include mutual attention and support, affective connectedness, sense of community, and open communication. These factors, in addition to application of social learning theory (Hill, Song, & West, 2009), can help guide the design of online learning systems to foster social presence (Sung & Mayer 2012), and help replicate some of the components of traditional campus experiences.

The theoretical framework for the study is based on diffusion of innovations. One of the major ways in which adoption of online distance education in higher education has been conceptualized is as a diffusion process. Diffusion theory is based on the diffusion of innovations adoption model (Rogers, 2003), which explains how a technological innovation moves through a process whereby users decide to adopt or not adopt until the innovation either achieves critical mass or is rejected. For Rogers, adoption is a decision of "full use of an innovation as the best course of action available" and rejection is a decision "not to adopt an innovation" (p. 177). Rogers defines diffusion as "the process in which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system" (p. 5). As expressed in this definition, innovation, communication channels, time, and social system are the four key components of the diffusion of innovations. These four key components can readily be observed in the evolution of online distance education. Distance education is a technology-based innovation that has evolved over time in terms of being adopted by institutions of higher education. Its beginnings followed the prescribed diffusion path identified by Rogers (2003). Through delivery and discussion of distance education programs, knowledge of the associated mechanisms has spread. The allure of farther reaching programs that distance education offers, makes it a prime target for use in educational expansion. As it has evolved, concerns over its effects on communications and social systems, as represented by students' experiences, have led researchers to examine these influences on the adoption process with a view toward better understanding how students perceive and make sense of their experiences. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.