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Teaching and Learning Showcase
Using a Virtual Classroom to Support Part-time Business Students

Module Title:

Undergraduate Dissertation

Module Coordinator:

Orna O'Brien

Module Code:

BMGT3002D

Target Audience:

Fourth-year Part-time Business Students
background:

This module, BMGT3002D Undergraduate Dissertation, is a core module on the Bachelor of Business Studies (BBS) part-time programme at UCD Lochlann Quinn School of Business. The module was weighted with 20 ECTS of the programme. The programme is for mature students, with a number of years work experience and requires 3 weekends of attendance each semester. This module provides students with the opportunity to prepare a minor dissertation, involving some primary research. For the academic year 2012-13, students were allowed to select their topic of interest from within the business curriculum. Students were exposed to each of the steps of the research process, including the development of a research proposal, reviewing the academic literature, constructing a research design, then collecting and analysing the data.

As these students have work experience, many had very good access to a work environment which serves as a research site for the project. Due to their academic studies and this industry exposure, they were well placed to engage in this minor research project. These students were extremely self-directed in their approach and the design of this module was developed in consideration of the profile of the group.

goals:

The module learning outcomes were for students to:

  • Evaluate different research methodology approaches and identify the most suitable approaches in different situations.
  • Conduct interviews and/or administer surveys for the purposes of research.
  • Explore the key themes arising in the literature and to demonstrate how these themes are applicable in the chosen research site.
  • Evaluate research findings and be able to identify the most relevant findings.
  • Present a clear discussion of the main research findings and be able to put forward appropriate conclusions based on the findings.

Given the flexibility of the progamme delivery, students were geographically dispersed across the country. A general class workshop was scheduled once a month to introduce the conceptual foundations of a particular stage of the research process which students were encountering at that time. While these sessions were scheduled on a just-in-time basis, it was felt that additional sessions could be of value and that such sessions should be delivered just prior to a project deadline. The goal was to explore what technology might be employed to provide additional class support outside of the scheduled, monthly classes.

The Innovative Approach:

In addition to the appointment of a discipline-specific supervisor for the project, students attended a monthly research workshop. Three podcasts were prepared for key intervals of the research process which occurred between the classes. This provided students with the flexibility to manage the project in accordance with their own schedules and suited the self-directed nature of this module.

Two online additional workshops were then delivered at times when students traditionally required additional support and were not scheduled to attend class. One week prior to the deadline for the research proposal (and two weeks after the first class), a Collaborate session was delivered in the evening time to provide some general reminders on the proposal specification and also to address general queries. Collaborate, is the virtual classroom that is currently available in UCD which enables voice, video and text interaction between students and lecturers in a virtual classroom environment. This provided an online environment which allowed students to log in from any location which suited the part-time nature of this cohort, who would be otherwise challenged to attend an additional workshop on campus. A second online workshop was delivered two weeks prior to the draft submission of the project. It provided students with some general reminders regarding the preparation of the final submission and addressed the general queries. In both instances, many students had similar queries and benefitted from the opportunity to discuss these queries collectively.

Results:

The use of the additional online web sessions added greatly to the module experience. Attendance for the sessions was between 65%- 75%. The web session were scheduled at critical intervals for the development of the project when students were not scheduled to be on campus. The Collaborate technology provided an accessible learning environment at a time when many students would have been otherwise unable to attend a class session. As the sessions were timed around the time of a major project deliverable, students were focused in their approach and were able to maximize the opportunity for discussion of common topics collectively. The ‘Collaborate’ technology was user-friendly and the recording function allowed students to revisit the material covered as they needed. The online sessions provided a provided a valuable resource and complemented the role of the project supervisor and the face-to-face class sessions.

Figure One: Screen Shot of the Online Session on Project Proposals