Folding space: Strategies that make distance education students feel like they are on campus

Research output: Other contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


In the classic Science fiction book Dune, by Frank Herbert, the guild navigators use the spice 'melange' to enable them to fold space, so they can travel without moving. Over the past three years, we have been moving our first year Microbiology distance subject, which services up to 300 students, towards this goal. We improved asynchronous on-line support by designating specific roles for academics teaching into the subject. The Subject Coordinator role was designated a non-teaching position, and was solely to deal with all administrative issues that occur with a cohort of this size. A special role we called simply 'Forum Manager' was created to centralise the on-line coordination of subject-related Q&A, study tips, resources and self-assessment questions to a single academic. These changes and improvement of study materials have lead to a reduction in attrition rate and a stunning rise in student satisfaction when compared to cohorts from previous years. One of the 'jewels-in-the-crown' of the subject was to hold live, on-line lectures twice a week for distance students. Two lecturers, on campuses in Wagga Wagga and Orange would 'meet' students on-line, by Wimba. The Wimba platform runs within a web browser provided Javais available, so there is no software for students to download. It allows the recording and sharing of text chat, voice, video, power points and a whiteboard. With two lecturers present, students could ask questions of one lecturer via a shared chat room, while the other lecturer remained free to deliver lecture content. Each lecture, we were able to test students understanding of concepts within the Wimba environment using polled questions. The polls showed us in real time how many students understood a particular idea and allowed us to deconstruct the question for students. Synchronous Wimba sessions were attended by only an average of 25 of the 181 distance students in any week (Mean 25 students SD 8.5).During the session, over half the distance students were able to attend at least one synchronous Wimba session. It became clear from DE forum chat that the podcasts and vodcasts produced from these lectures were a big hit with the students, who enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere and team teaching approach. Students commented on the value of listening to the lectures whilst jogging or reviewing the vodcasts, or while on the train coming home from work. In future, we are looking to find ways to increase the uptake of the live online lectures, perhaps by polling well in advance the most suitable time for them. We believe that just recording on-campus lectures is a poor substitute for synchronous on-line learning. Our experience is that synchronous lectures allow distance students to engage with lecturers and peers. This engagement appears to translate well to those that miss the on-line lectures, but get the vodcasts, podcasts and forum-mentoring from online participants. In summary we have managed to spice up the learning experience of our distance students by ‘folding space’!
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 2012
Event15th International First Year in Higher Education Conference (FYHE 2012) - Sofitel Brisbane Central, Brisbane, Australia
Duration: 26 Jun 201229 Jun 2012


Conference15th International First Year in Higher Education Conference (FYHE 2012)
Abbreviated titleNew Horizons
Internet address


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