Extending the online distance course : online student activity beyond the online classroom
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This study investigated why and how students, who enrolled in fully-online distance course, participated in online activities external to the formal online course (OAEOC) at any point during or after the online course. For this research, OAEOC is defined as any activity pursued by students within an online environment during or after the course that does not take place within their teacher-sponsored online course “home” (such as a Moodle or Blackboard). This research occurred within a fully-online, five-week course that trained journalists in digital tools. Data included: (a) 144 researcher-generated interpretive memos based on activities within the course’s online discussion forums and student chats and (b) 11 student interviews. Results showed that student interactions in course discussion forums were critically important for developing connections between students, which in turn, supported the initiation of online activities external to the online course. During the course, students posted information about their online identities and created a Facebook group and Twitter list, which facilitated online activities external to the course. Data from interviews showed that those students participating in OAEOC did so for social reasons and to continue conversing with classmates. Students who did not participate in OAEOCs indicated work schedule conflicts, lack of interest, and unawareness of the OAEOCs prevented their participation. During the course, OAEOC participants discussed topics related to the course content. However, once the course concluded, OAEOC participants started discussing more personal and professional topics. The phenomenon studied is new to online distance education and holds the potential to extend the online course experience and support lifelong learning.