Saturday, May 21, 2016

Study and the Single Student

Moser (p. 5, 2016) investigates the question "How do real-time interactions between academic support departments and online graduate students impact student interaction with the course content?", concluding that synchronous web conferencing between staff and distance education students improves graduate student's views of the course. The idea is to use the web conferencing to reduce the student's sense of isolation. The research was carried out using eight on-line US graduate social science students at one institution in 2015. The students had undertaken four or more synchronous sessions.

Moser does not precisely define "web conferencing": is audio sufficient, or is video required? Is this predominately staff talking and students just listening, or truly interactive? Is it one-to-one or with a group of students? In addition, the value of text based chat, as an alternative to audio or video was not considered. Moser provides no evaluation of web conferencing in terms of improving student outcomes, such as by increasing completion rates: it is assumed that a happier student is a better student.

The cost and inconvenience of web conferencing is not considered in Moser's study. One reason for the use of on-line education is to reduce the cost of tuition. A one-to-one live chat imposes a very high cost, compared to asynchronous communication. The amount of time an instructor is typically given to run a course equates to about seven minutes per student per week*. I have found it preferable to use some of this time providing group and individual feedback asynchronously and to reserve synchronous individual chat for the few students who need additional help.

A live chat requires the student to be available at one of the times offered by the staff member. This can be a problem for working students and those in different time zones. As an international distance student myself, I have found that the problems of getting web conferencing to work and of scheduling outweighed the benefits. Most events are scheduled at what is in my time zone the early hours of the morning before dawn. There are frequent problems with the technology, so much of a session is spent saying "Can you hear me now?". Also most of the sessions are taken up with administrative matters, which could be better handled via text. When the course is addressed, the web conference tends to turn into a mini-lecture by the instructor, which could have been better provided pre-recorded.

What I have found far more useful and rewarding than web conferencing with the instructor is audio voice chat with fellow students, while working on group projects. With this three or four students have a document open for group editing and discuss changes as these are made. This also provides an opportunity to also gossip about the course and grumble about the instructor and the administration, which is a healthy way to release the frustrations of being a student.

* Australian university academics have 15 to 25 students each to teach (Gallagher, p. 16, 2011) and work about 38 hours per week. Assuming an academic spends half their time teaching (19 hours) to 20 students, that is 57 minutes of staff time for each student each week. Note that this is to undertake all activities for a course and it could be expected that course design, administration and assessment would take proportion, leaving perhaps seven minutes for individual student interaction.


Gallagher, M. (2011). Academic Staffing Trends in Go8 and Other Australian Universities, 2000-2010. Go8 Backgrounder 25. Group of Eight (NJ1). Retrieved from
Moser, H. J. (2016). Online Learning And Academic Support Centers: How Synchronous Support Opportunities Affect Graduate Students’ Interaction With The Content. Retrieved from

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