Online community environment promoting engagement in higher education

03.08.2012 | Article by Johanna Annala, Marita Mäkinen, Päivi Svärd, Kirsi Silius and Thumas Miilumäki in Studies for the Learning Society NO 2-3, 2012.

This paper illustrates how university students describe the benefits and challenges of online community environment (OCE) in promoting engagement in university studies. The sociocultural framework allows gaining understanding of the engagement in learning processes as well as the collaborative dimensions of OCE in developing higher education in the 21th century. The study was conducted by using the method of empathy-based stories. The data were collected from two student groups representing samples of presumed forerunners of online and offline environments. The results revealed the importance of multidimensionality of engagement, with interaction among and between students and staff. OCE was seen beneficial in strengthening the sense of belonging to the university, in networking and in enhancing active citizenship. The students saw the academic and social world overlapping. OCE was not seen as an alternative but supplementary to offline community, being beneficial for learning and extracurricular activities. The results represent four overlapping spheres that reflect the potentials of OCE in enhancing engagement in studies: supportive reciprocity, collegial contribution, growth of expertise and shared direction. In order to enhance engagement in university studies via OCE, the results suggest that the focus should be on the sociocultural practices and pedagogical processes.

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