Increasingly postgraduate courses are delivered on-line so as to meet professionals’ demands for life-long learning. Research examined the distance learning environment and the efficacy of students critiquing each other's seminal work, by either direct exchange or via online fora, as a structured part of their formal assessments.
A total of 377 students were given standardised learning environment inventories and some undertook qualitative interviews. Students from three subjects were given the experimental pedagogy of structured peer critiquing (SPC), while students from two subjects were a control group without SPC. The research findings show significant differences in environment across most demographics and by prior academic achievement. The research found that SPC was more effective for students with lower or average prior achievement and led to improved perceptions of their learning environment. Forums were found to be a more subtle means of structuring critiquing and engagement than direct exchange; however, care is also needed to ensure online debate is incisive.
Encouraged by the incisiveness of the standardized environmental instruments, future work is proposed to benchmark the overall University’s postgraduate distance program using an environment inventory specific to tertiary distance learning and another to on-line Constructivist pedagogy.
Dr Keith Joiner was an Air Force aeronautical engineer, project manager and teacher for 30 years before joining UNSW to teach and research test and evaluation. As a Director-General he was awarded a Conspicuous Service Cross and for drawdown plans in Iraq a U.S. Meritorious Service Medal. His 1999 PhD was in reform of calculus education and he is actively researching classroom environments for distance and student engagement.
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