Making Sense of Computer-Mediated Communication in Online Learning

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Horsburgh, Sonya
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Mount Saint Vincent University
The objective of this thesis is to understand how students make sense of online learning. I set out to explore questions like: Do students make sense of online courses as meaningful? What factors influence students‟ sensemaking of online education? A review of the literature revealed that many people avoid online learning because they believe they will perform poorly in this environment. It also found that students who took an online course were often satisfied with their experience despite their initial resistance to this form of learning. What is interesting is that there is very little research about the process students go through to achieve this new acceptance. My own experience as a student was consistent with what I found in the literature which prompted me to explore this topic. To try and understand more about the process leading to acceptance, PR graduate students from Mount Saint Vincent University were interviewed about their experiences with online learning. This qualitative approach allowed students to reflect on their own journey and provided rich interviews for analysis. Weick‟s (1995) sensemaking provided a theoretical framework which allowed me to analyse the process students underwent to accept online learning as meaningful and effective. Throughout the students‟ journey the seven psychosocial sensemaking properties (Weick, 1995, 2005) were evident, some more prominent than others. Participants clearly articulated their sensemaking process as rooted in identity construction. This property was evident in student interviews about their own presence as students, their identities as students as defined through relationships with classmates, and the ways in which they attributed identity to their professors. In discussing their initial resistance to online learning, participants also demonstrated properties of retrospection, plausibility, and the extraction of cues from their environments. As well, in discussion of their overall experiences with online learning participants highlighted the social and ongoing nature of sensemaking. At the end of their journey to make sense of online learning, students believed that online learning was as effective as traditional face-to-face learning. Expanding our understanding of this sensemaking process as educators and communicators may allow us to support students in their journey to make sense of online learning more effectively.
Web-based instruction , Distance education , Public relations , Telematics