The stalled revolution: an examination of online teaching in international relations & politics at Australian universities

2017-02-27T03:15:43Z (GMT) by Hardy, Matthew Gordon
This thesis deals with the broad question of how Australian universities and their teachers are meeting the changing market conditions of the 21st century. This examination occurs in the context of changing legislative and regulatory circumstances and strategic efforts to meet the broader goals of 'graduate attributes' and increased accessibility of tertiary learning. The underlying query of this thesis is how technology can assist in transcending traditional models of higher education teaching delivery. Related to this is a focus on collaborative learning, with the question of its desirability and what it might offer in terms of improved outcomes relevant to teaching and learning in higher education. These questions are primarily discussed in the context of how online environments can aid collaboration and result in both discipline specific and generic outcomes. Through a case study of Australian International Relations (IR) and Politics teachers at the undergraduate level, this thesis finds that there has been limited innovation in the online delivery of these subjects and that there is little consistency in any e-learning approaches that have been adopted. In particular, collaborative online learning is infrequently pursued. This is surprising because in a climate of increasingly market-driven higher education, collaborative online tools may offer a solution to many of the pressures teaching academics face. These findings point to a significant gap between the strategic goals expressed by universities and what is actually being delivered to undergraduates. This includes meeting ambitions in 'graduate attributes', satisfying regulatory oversight, contending with financial pressures and the societal drive to make learning more accessible to a wider audience. The thesis also examines some of the barriers teaching staff feel prevent them from utilising online collaborative methods, including perceptions of time poverty, support, skills, institutional factors and peer experience. The findings indicate that teachers of IR/Politics feel little incentive to implement online collaborations, chiefly because of time constraints,but also a prevailing sense that such innovations are not worth their investment in terms of career advancement and institutional support. Unfamiliarity with the technology involved serves to exacerbate these perceptions to the point where investing any effort in the pursuit of online approaches is seen as wasteful. A theoretical Technology-Assisted Teaching Adoption Model is proposed as a means of demonstrating the barriers to innovation uncovered by this research. Finally, this thesis explores online role play as a possible solution to some of these barriers perceived by IR and Politics teachers, as well as how such an approach could address the market factors currently shaping Australian higher education. There is strong and consistent support within the literature for role play as a collaborative learning strategy with identified pedagogical benefits. In the disciplines of IR and Politics, where much of the subject matter being studied concerns the concept of people and entities communicating and co-operating, role plays can help generate deeper and broader understanding. The thesis concludes by making recommendations as to how Australian universities can move towards fostering online innovation amongst teaching staff, both to better meet institutional goals, as well as serve their students better by producing qualities conducive to their future careers.