A Changing Experience : communication and meaning-making in web-based teacher training

Abstract: This is a study of students’ meaning making in web-based higher education courses. Conditions for students meaning-making change when interaction technology is used to support educational practices. Widened Participation policy activities often use web-based programs to attract “new” groups of more experienced students. The study used a communicative approach and focused on how previous experiences influenced actions and meaning making when students encountered challenges related to course objectives. Mediated Discourse Analysis was used to analyse asynchronous communication in 10 groups during 18 weeks of a 4-year part-time distance education program, training childminders for a Bachelor of Education, specialising in early childhood.  Appearances of meaning-making were traced to changes and breaks in student communication and presented as themes of orientations of actions namely:  • participation, the manifestation of presence, engagement in course work and the creation of space for engagement  • positioning, the creation of a student identity, the organisation of work, and the construction of a group culture  • reference, the orientation actions took in a nexus of practices. Where did students go for examples and to challenge theoretical concepts? • changing experience is a collection of moments of reification, when students came to make realisations of relevance to subject and task.  This study tells an alternative story to research on web-based education stating difficulties to achieve in-depth communication. The mediated environment offered strength for meaning-making and knowledge building as time, in the opportunity to develop new perspective through thinking and in encountering concepts again and again. As numbers, in the necessary impact of other’s experiences. And as distance, provided by the shift of actions in asynchronous communication, forcing thoughts into written language and making them accessible for reflection and criticism. If we are serious about widening participation we should regard students not only as numbers but instead as a valuable resource that may contribute to change in education. In this context, the combination of new groups of students and web-based scenarios provides future avenues for an informed pedagogical approach to higher education.