Going Online to Learn Health Sciences Research Methods: The Student Experience
Health professionals are attracted to the flexibility of the virtual classroom for their on-going education. Recent studies have documented the differences in pedagogy between Internet based learning online and the traditional classroom setting, but few have investigated student health professionals' transitional process while engaged in online learning. The purpose of this mixed methods evaluation study was to document students' experience of a six month online research methods paper (unit). Specifically it explores factors that influenced student transition to online pedagogy and successful completion of the paper. Descriptive qualitative and quantitative analyses were applied to 230 student evaluations and 1720 emails collected over a four year period. The findings supported those of previous studies; the main reasons students study online is the flexibility it offers (87%) and the ability to study without taking time off work (72%). The student experiences were captured in the overarching theme 'from enduring to enjoying'. A teacher who works within a collaborative team, engages students early with interactive skill acquisition learning activities, and is responsive to online students' unique needs, can successfully facilitate students through the virtual classroom transitional phases: from 'virtual paralysis' to 'engagement' to 'getting into it' to 'surprised enjoyment'. Without strategies in place, however, teachers risk being overwhelmed by the onslaught of student emails, with the allotted teacher-student contact time slip sliding away.