Lecturer vignettes

it’s peace of mind to know that these strategies work, so I don’t have to go through trial and error because I know that they work.

Lecturer vignettes

Vignette 3: Liz, coordinator of PG online courses

Liz is a coordinator of postgraduate courses, which have full online delivery, with some having a large proportion of international students. In the past she has shied away from online discussion because there are often 300 to 400 students ‘and 99 percent of those are international students who are struggling with the English’ so Liz felt facilitating online discussion would be ‘unfeasible’. In addition, the university appoints sessional staff which can often be in ‘either Orientation week or in Week 1 or 2 because international students tend to enrol late, so it’s nothing for the numbers of that class to double in the first two weeks’. From a coordinator perspective, having facilitated discussions ‘would be a nightmare … given how much work it would be to get students up to speed and indeed the staff to understand and to help’ given the casual staffing model used by the university.

One of her smaller courses, which takes students through essentials of research, has now grown to an enrolment of over 20. Prior to that it was much smaller and Liz was able to give students individual attention so she felt ‘there was no need for discussions because I had the time and headspace to engage with them individually’. Now that the course has become quite successful the university is contemplating making it compulsory for all new higher degree research (HDR) students - numbers have steadily grown and she anticipates over 30 next year.

Liz heard about the FOLD project and came on board for training a few weeks before the commencement of the next session of the HDR course. She felt this course would be ‘perfect’ for trialling the FOLD principles ‘because I no longer have the time or the headspace to deal with each student individually’. Considering the kinds of students who enrol in a research degree, she felt that ‘setting up the asynchronous groups was perfect … because then they become self-help as well’.

Reflecting on implementing the communicative strategies, Liz commented that they ‘were really good because they gave the discussion structure’. While she didn’t have time between training and course commencement to do significant redesign of discussion tasks, she still found that students’ responses, especially for the first task, ‘worked really well as a way of introducing themselves to other students’ as well as talking about their proposed research topic and reasons for the research. Liz found that this task helped students connect to each other and some realised ‘they were co-located and they didn’t really know it, or … working on similar stuff’ so it enabled students to make important connections.

In terms of creating meaningful discussion, the forums were used to give ‘each other feedback’ on their assignment before submission. Liz noticed ‘there was a lot more discussion within it … they made suggestions, and people went ‘Ah! I hadn’t thought of that’ and so that could be added to the assignment before they submitted’. She feels that any collaborative work like that which improves their assessment work is ‘all good’. The benefits of the first task in particular were twofold in that Liz was able to gather data about the students – ‘who they are, what they’re studying, who their supervisors are’.

Liz describes herself as a reflective practitioner so now that the session is over she is thinking about what worked and what didn’t. She has copied the course over in the learning platform in readiness for the next session ‘so I’ve got some structure there’ which is helpful because she’s ‘not starting from scratch and every term I’ll build on and tweak things and improve it as I go along’. Some of the ideas she has are to revisit her instructions and make sure there’s ‘enough scaffolding of the instructions’ and to gradually introduce the strategies. She intends to develop a topic-related task that is ‘relevant to everyone regardless of what discipline area’. She is also thinking about keeping discussion forums to the first half of the session ‘because the second half that’s when the going really gets tough then … it is quite hectic’. Her aim is ‘just to have more discussion and keep up that momentum of talking to others in the course’. A potential side benefit is that she ‘can have them more helping themselves, not being totally dependent on me for every bit of feedback and answering questions’.

Liz concludes,

It’s just been helpful to me to have your guide because then it’s not me sitting here thinking ‘Oh what can I do to improve the discussions?’ I can just go to the Guide and there’s ideas … it sets it out and it gives you the wording … and I used that wording as a basis and adapted it to my purposes but I didn’t have to adapt too much … they’re little things that are really helpful and also just that peace of mind to know that you’ve researched those … so it’s peace of mind to know that these work, so I don’t have to go through trial and error because I know that they work.


Note: Liz received training and had access to a draft of the The Guide



The Guide

Articulates a set of principles for fostering online discussion in higher education, based on theory, the literature and evidence from postgraduate and undergraduate flexibly delivered courses.

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Student Perspectives

Here we present students’ perspectives on their experience of online discussion, in which the teacher used the Guide.


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Lecturer Vignettes

These vignettes capture the essence of how the FOLD strategies have influenced lecturers’ experiences of facilitating online discussion.

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Resources

The resources in this section are the literature used to inform the Guide as well as presentations made by the Project Team. These will be added to as we continue to disseminate.

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