Understanding Pedagogic Collaboration in the Online Environment

  • Helen Coker

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (awarded by OU/Aberdeen)


Online learning environments are being increasingly utilised in academic settings, with many universities developing online and blended programmes (Adekola, 2016). The student experience, in relation to working with others, when studying online, has been widely researched (Garrison et. al, 2000, Kehrwald, 2008). The tutor experience has not (Arbaugh, 2014). There are now a generation of experienced online tutors, particularly in institutions who were quick to take up online delivery, who have developed expertise teaching online. Their experience and knowledge of practice can add to the research, and knowledge base, on effective online learning. This research observed the role of the online tutor, when utilising collaborative activities in their teaching. An ethnographic observation of online practice was drawn, using an iterative mixed-methods approach. Data from the online space was used to observe the participation patterns of over fifty tutors, and over eight hundred students. Fifteen tutors were then interviewed, ten of whom took part in a subsequent focus group. Taking a narrative approach to analysis, the data gathered painted a rich picture of collaborative online practice.
Qualitatively different approaches were observed in tutor’s facilitation of collaborative online tools. Tutors were observed to be situated within layers of context, online teaching being culturally situated and mediated by the digital technology utilised. Text-based communications reified dialogue, mediating the interactions between participants. Many of the face-to-face feedback cues which tutors utilised in their teaching were lost in the online environment. The setting was opaque, but at the same time mediated higher levels of disclosure. The online environment challenged traditional physical and temporal boundaries; the responsibility for establishing boundaries becoming that of the tutor, rather than the institution. Tutors drew on previous experiences; their participation was shaped by the situated nature of their practice and their own aspirations for the future. The observation drawn, of pedagogic collaboration, highlighted the social and cultural nature of online participation.
Date of Award24 May 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Edinburgh
SupervisorFrank Rennie (Supervisor), Gareth Davies (Supervisor) & Melanie Smith (Supervisor)

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