Straddling both sides of the barbed wire-fence: enhancing the working student experience in online learning
Siddiqui, N and Torugsa, N and Greenfield, D and Butler-Henderson, K, Straddling both sides of the barbed wire-fence: enhancing the working student experience in online learning, Teaching Matters 2017 Conference Program, 28 November, Hobart, Tasmania (2017) [Conference Extract]
Combining study and work during postgraduate education has become common practice in Australia. Enhancement of a student’s work and study skill set is a complex challenge. While universities and employers promote universal skills (e.g. communication and collaboration), the situation becomes complicated when students require skills to undertake one role that needs critical reconsideration for the other. For example, assertiveness, a behavioural skill that can make an individual successful at work, but requires a different application in their studies (Greenhaus & Beutell, 1985). This study examines a method to enrich the learning experience of students who are working and studying simultaneously, exploring enhancement of students’ work and study skills set.
The teaching practice in this study is grounded in theory of situated learning and social constructivism. The situated learning instructional approach requires two basic conditions: firstly, the knowledge and skills need to be acquired in an authentic context; and secondly, meaningful learning requires social interaction and collaboration (Creed et al., 2015). Social constructivism also advocates social interaction and collaboration, as well as the skills for critical thinking (Powell & Kalina, 2009). Accordingly, the teaching practice targets the enhancement of the skills for collaboration, critical thinking, and communication. The student learning and the work contexts typically value each of these skills.
The study followed a participatory action research approach, involving thirty-eight research participants: two academics in the teaching team, six recent graduates and thirty current students. The research incorporated one-to-one interviews and survey methods. First, the chief investigator developed a draft version of the teaching practice with insights from the literature and the two academics in the teaching team. Next, the teaching team and chief investigator interviewed the recent graduates individually, discussing and fine-tuning the teaching practice with feedback from the recent graduates. In Semester 1 2017, the teaching practice was applied to current students as an assessment task in a unit of study. This intervention involved two to three students discussing answer to a given set of questions and posting a team response to the questions. This team exercise was online, requiring synchronous engagement during the team discussion and asynchronous engagement while writing the post. Finally, a survey, which included a mixture of closed and open-ended questions, was run on the current students to assess their experience with the teaching practice. Student participation in the survey was voluntary and confidential.
Comprehensive data analysis is in progress. Analysis of the interviews and the qualitative aspect of the survey involved thematic analysis: familiarising with the data, generating provisional codes for patterns, and arriving at themes through iterative process of contrast and comparisons of patterns (Braun & Clarke, 2006). The quantitative aspect of the survey was analysed using descriptive statistics. The interim analysis indicates mixed opinion regarding the effectiveness of the teaching practice in enhancing the student’s skills that are beneficial for both the study and work contexts. Considerable differences between the opinion of the recent graduates and current students have been identified. The interim results support a recommendation for greater awareness about the similarities and differences between the skills of work and study.