Theses Doctoral

Exploring the Possibilities of Online Learning Experiences

Yang, Chia-ling

This reflective study, which explored how students learn in an online setting, involved an initial sample of 588 students who have taken the Health Education for Teachers course from fall 2013 to spring 2018 at Teachers College. A survey featuring open-ended questions were administered by email to the students, among whom 57 returned their questionnaires in June 2019. Of these participants, six agreed to be interviewed face to face or via Skype. The semi-structured interviews were conducted in July and August 2019, but when necessary, follow-up questions were asked in September and October that year. Professor Katherine Roberts, the instructor of the course, was also interviewed.

The results showed that the students did not consider online discussions or email correspondence as interactions and desired more human exchanges. They decided on an online course for convenience and flexibility, but had they been given a choice, more of them would have opted for face-to-face settings. The themes emerging from the interview data were the necessity of flexibility and convenience rather than choice, the belief that flexibility is not beneficial to studying, and the difficulty of having a social presence. In recounting their learning experiences, the most memorable moments recalled by the students were places they have been to and people with whom they interacted. The interview with Professor Roberts revealed the difficulty of evaluating student progress in an online context and the importance of technical support from the institution.

This research explored the validity of online communities, illuminated the significance of phatic communication, raised questions about educational costs, and identified the need for technical assistance from institutions. The findings suggested that instead of building an online community, which can rarely exist, educators should incorporate local community participation into educational programs. Finally, when institutions want to offer online courses, they should do so for pedagogical reasons and not solely for income. Educators need to continue exploring learning possibilities in both online and face-to-face avenues.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Interdisciplinary Studies in Education
Thesis Advisors
Leichter, Hope
Ed.D., Teachers College, Columbia University
Published Here
February 21, 2020