Juxtaposing community with learning: The relationship between learner contributions and sense of community in online environments

Dawson, Shane Peter (2007) Juxtaposing community with learning: The relationship between learner contributions and sense of community in online environments. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Australian Government policy has sought to decrease university reliance on federal support through the re-allocation of funding. Access to this pool of funding is based on teaching and learning performance and the subsequent comparison with similar education institutions. The concept of community has been promoted as a strategy for responding to these government demands whilst facilitating the student learning experience. Despite an intensive investment in strategic initiatives to enhance sense of community among the student cohort, there is a lack of scaleable evaluative measures to assess the overall effectiveness and accomplishment of intended outcomes.

Contemporary methods for the assessment of community primarily rely on the establishment of pre-defined characteristics and the subsequent content analyses of communication artefacts to identify presence or absence. These studies are often small in sample size and limited in scalability and therefore the generalisation of research findings is impeded.

This study aimed to examine the relationship between student sense of community (SOC) and communication interactions. To achieve this aim the study first developed a scaleable quantitative methodology that can be used to benchmark current pedagogical performance and guide future implemented practices relating to the establishment of a student community. The study juxtaposes an established scale of SOC with student online communication behaviours to identify potential relationships.

In developing this methodology the study confirmed that the Classroom Community Scale (CCS) was a valid and robust instrument. The study incorporated a mixed methods paradigm to investigate the research questions. Quantitative data were derived from an online survey (N= 464), student online communication interactions and social network analyses. These data were further explored using more qualitative approaches such as content analyses of the discussion forum transcripts (n = 899) and student interviews (N = 4).

The findings demonstrate that students and teaching units with greater frequencies of communication interactions possess stronger levels of SOC as determined by the CCS (R2 = .24, F = 14.98, p < .001; R2 = .83, F = 16.53, p < .01, respectively). A significant correlation was observed between discussion forum interaction types (learner-learner; learner-content; system) and SOC. Although learner-to-learner interactions demonstrated a positive correlation (r = .48, p < .05), system posts (isolated contributions) illustrated a negative correlation (r = - .50, p < .05). Quantity of discussion forum postings alone was not observed to be a significant indicator of SOC.

Social network analyses demonstrated that the centrality measures closeness and degrees are positive predictors of an individual's reported SOC (t = 3.02 and t = 3.24, p < .001 respectively). In contrast, the centrality measure betweenness revealed a negative correlation (t = -3.86, p < .001). Discussion forum content analyses illustrated the fluid transition of discourse between social and learning oriented communities. Student interviews suggested that pre-existing external networks influence the type of support and information exchanges required and therefore, the degree of SOC experienced.

The study also recognised that a key challenge in the implementation of data mining practices to monitor lead indicators of community lies in the notion of surveillance. This study examined the impact of technologically mediated modes of surveillance on student online behaviour. The findings demonstrate that students' unaware of the surveillance technologies operating within the institution modify their online behaviour more than their cognisant peers.

The results of this study have implications for educational theory, practice, monitoring and evaluation. This research supports the development of a new model of community that illustrates the inter-relationships between student SOC and the education environment. Furthermore, the developed methodology demonstrates the capacity for cost effective data mining techniques to guide and evaluate implemented teaching and learning practices. Consequently, alignment with other theoretical constructs such as student satisfaction and engagement provides the institution with a lead indicator of teaching and learning performance. As the findings from this study illustrate the relationship between communication interactions and SOC, educators have the capacity to monitor communication trends and alter the teaching and learning practices to promote community among the student cohort in a just-in-time environment.

Impact and interest:

Citation counts are sourced monthly from Scopus and Web of Science® citation databases.

These databases contain citations from different subsets of available publications and different time periods and thus the citation count from each is usually different. Some works are not in either database and no count is displayed. Scopus includes citations from articles published in 1996 onwards, and Web of Science® generally from 1980 onwards.

Citations counts from the Google Scholar™ indexing service can be viewed at the linked Google Scholar™ search.

Full-text downloads:

783 since deposited on 03 Dec 2008
132 in the past twelve months

Full-text downloads displays the total number of times this work’s files (e.g., a PDF) have been downloaded from QUT ePrints as well as the number of downloads in the previous 365 days. The count includes downloads for all files if a work has more than one.

ID Code: 16348
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Watters, James
Additional Information: Recipient of 2007 Outstanding Doctoral Thesis Award
Keywords: sense of community, computer-mediated communication, quantitative, lead indicators, social network analysis, information and communication technologies, surveillance, ODTA
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Department: Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Shane Peter Dawson
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 04:01
Last Modified: 17 Jun 2013 06:15

Export: EndNote | Dublin Core | BibTeX

Repository Staff Only: item control page