Learning is traditionally a communal experience. Throughout school we work in classrooms with other children and, at university, lectures and seminars are spent in the company of our peers, discussing and debating ideas. Throughout it all, our teachers and tutors are a constant presence, leading and guiding the class.
Real-life interaction between students and teachers is an important part of the learning process as it enables conversation, promotes the exchange of ideas, and challenges perspectives. So what happens when you embark on an online course? How do course leaders ensure that students who study online don’t miss out on vital contact with tutors, and with each other?
At NTU, we realise the importance of this interaction, so our online postgraduate degrees aim to create a virtual community that is equally as effective as studying on campus. This is enabled by proven academic frameworks as well as social technology and connectivity. Here we look at how social interaction is achieved in our courses.
An emphasis on social presence
Our online degrees are strongly rooted with proven structures that guide and shape the way we deliver them. When we develop our courses for online consumption, we refer to a number of frameworks, including the Community of Inquiry Model, which highlights three domains integral to a successful and holistic learning experience, one of which is social presence. Simply put, this framework asserts that an effective online learning experience must include a sense of community.
With this thinking underpinning the way we teach online, we make it our mission to create an environment in which students feel connected with one another. The goal is to foster this sense of community even before your degree begins. We offer an induction that includes meet-and-greet forums where you can get to know your fellow students and be welcomed by your course leader. These ‘icebreaker’ inductions are a perfect place to get acquainted with the people you’ll share your course with, ask questions, and settle any nerves.
Meeting the minds behind your online degree
Every module of your online course will be led by a dedicated online tutor, who serves as the day-to-day ‘teacher’ for the module. They are there to support and guide your learning and, just like a face-to-face tutor, they will keep you up to date with everything you need to know via module forums, including reminders of upcoming deadlines and weekly round-ups.
You’ll also hear from the module leader, who develops and designs the module. In order to boost the sense of teacher presence on the course, you will be able to watch your module leaders in a series of videos designed to introduce each module, and unit, to give you a deeper understanding of the topic.
As Ellie, our learning designer explains, “Each module consists of an overview video from the module leader with a personal intro and a short clip which introduces the weekly unit topic. The module leader creates bespoke videos for each module that might include interviews with academic or industry experts to ask specific questions that relate to the course content or case videos filmed at a location key to the module subject."
Through these resources, students can see and hear from the people behind the course content, follow them to places at the heart of the topics they are studying, and learn from people experiencing the issues first-hand. Our Online Master of Arts in International Relations features a series of Skype interviews that one of the module leaders filmed with global academic experts in the field, while one of the leaders of our Online Master of Business Administration (MBA) visited the head offices of cosmetics giant L’Oréal to gain a behind the scenes view of the business in practice.
Enriching your experience with interactive content
In addition to the ways in which you can hear directly from your module leaders, the content included on our online courses is also designed to actively enhance your experience.
We use a combination of video, interactive diagrams, timelines and scenarios (such as a mini case study with a series of decision-based questions) to further develop understanding of your subject area.
Working with your fellow students
While it’s obvious that an online course should include plenty of contact between students and tutors, the importance of the interaction among students can sometimes be overlooked. We understand the value of being able to communicate with your student peers, from simply bouncing ideas around to appraising each other’s work and debating key issues.
Your online degree will include a number of discussion forums each week, where the class can come together and discuss the subject at hand, the research around it, and their own thoughts and ideas. These activities not only help boost a sense of community and connection within the student body, but also allow students to practise presenting and defending their own arguments while critiquing those of others. Some of these forums are compulsory and assessed, but we have found that many students find interacting and learning from each other so beneficial that they seek advice again and again.
You will also have the chance to work in groups on specific projects that require collaborative working:
“These could be group video presentations, group wiki activities involving analysis of a document and the production of a wiki page to show findings, or scenario exercises in which pairs revisit experiences they have faced in their real working lives,” (Ellie, Learning Designer at NTU).
Group work takes place initially via the virtual learning environment, but over time you may find you and your fellow students develop discussions using other platforms (such as Skype and WhatsApp). The student class page also provides a valuable shared space in which students can post questions to each other whenever they need to.
Ultimately, it’s unlikely that you’ll feel isolated when you study our courses online. We think current student Orlando Catinari (Online MSc Construction Project Management) said it best: “The best feature of the online course is that you are not alone; there is a really good amount of interaction between you, the module tutor and other students on the course.”
If you’re interested in finding out more about our online courses and how they could help you find a new and rewarding career, take a look at our course pages or get in touch using the online request form.