“I go to uni twice a week for a lecture and a seminar and stop by the library to get some books for the work I have to do for my course. Not really made any contacts yet with other students. I meet with my personal tutor every other week and this is really helpful to stay on track. Working full-time, having a young family and studying is really hard. Does it have to be that way? I struggle to find time to do anything or am I just not organising my time properly? I wish I had more time to meet some of my peers more often and study together. Not sure if this is possible, since I am only there on Tuesdays and Fridays!”
Reflection and Link to my Practice
The scenario presented by the part-time student who is juggling work, studies as well as family commitments would resonate with the majority of my students , however they are studying via Distance Learning, so there are no opportunities for face to face contact with peers or staff.
Over the last two years I have introduced a weekly Bioethics discussion group using our virtual immersive world. The discussions were focussed on specific bioethical problems, and were designed to provide deeper understanding and engagement with the core module content. Problems were provided either via videos or audio files, and the students broke into smaller discussion groups (~8-10) in different rooms in the virtual campus, to discuss the issues arising. These discussion activities were provided in addition to the core material delivered via the traditional VLE. 83% of the cohort created avatars, and the average attendance at the weekly classes was 48%. 75% of responders agreed or strongly agreed that the VW environment was of great benefit for distance learning students, whilst over 70% felt that it promoted engagement with the module.
A typical comment from one of the students was:
“‘I was initially sceptical of the value of VWs and using avatars but when I engaged in the discussion I was surprised at the level of involvement that the environment drew from me. This type of learning environment is definitely more engaging than online discussions and chat forums that are common in distance-learning courses.’
I feel that this approach can be beneficial for part-time students (as illustrated in the scenario provided). Establishing a fixed time slot for the discussions can help with time management, and it provides students with the opportunity to engage with each other.