Individual, Institutional and Environmental Factors Influencing Online Distance Tertiary Teaching in New Zealand

Author: Dawson, Belinda

Date: 2019

Publisher: University of Otago

Type: Thesis

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University of Otago


Online and distance teaching requires careful negotiation between the goals, beliefs and philosophy of the teacher and the inherent pedagogy of the technologies and system they are working within. While the relationships among individual teacher beliefs, experiences and technology use in online and distance teaching has been well explored, the impact of other influential factors such as institutional systems, government policies and opportunities for professional development remain comparatively under-researched. The current research addressed this gap by investigating the individual and environmental factors that influenced teaching practice in the New Zealand online and distance learning (ODL) environment at three tertiary institutions. Fifteen teachers and educational designers from two universities and one polytechnic shared their experiences of designing and teaching online through three annual semi-structured interviews held between January 2014 and July 2016. Publicly available information about strategies, policies and systems at each institution was also collected and analysed. The research used a grounded theory approach (Charmaz, 2006) for initial data collection and coding, complemented by the use of Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) (Engeström, 2000) as a framework for systemic analysis of the data collected from the three institutions. The longitudinal design allowed for capture of chronological change and consideration of the dynamics and evolution of each institutional system. To further contextualise the individual and institutional changes observed, data from the wider tertiary teaching environment were reviewed, including governmental strategies, policies and funding, and international education trends. The findings are discussed in relation to the key dimensions of the CHAT model – subject, goal, tools, rules, community and division of labour, where participants provide the subject perspective for each institution. In all three cases institutional and individual goals were slightly divergent, with institutions focusing on meeting performance indicators for funding agreements, and individuals focusing on creating good teaching and learning experiences for the students. Use of technologies for teaching was mediated by institutional requirements, support and funding, and participants observed challenges in finding time to explore new technologies due to competing research and teaching pressures. Across all three institutions, staff discussed an abundance of rules impacting teaching practice, although polytechnic staff were more highly regulated than university staff. Participants reported high workloads, and challenges finding the time to meet research requirements in addition to teaching and service requirements. Teaching participants were more likely to be involved in a community of practice than educational design participants, with the most common source of professional development for teachers being communication with other teachers. The structure and division of labour for creating courses varied across institutions. The more highly regulated the relationship, the more tension there was between teacher and educational designer roles. Government policy, funding and reporting requirements were clearly felt by all participants, and changes in these requirements had clear flow on effects to teaching practice and course design throughout the research period. The findings will be useful to practitioners and researchers who are interested in the impact of systems, processes, professional development and teacher experiences on course development.

Subjects: distance learning, online learning, Activity theory, grounded theory, tertiary, New Zealand, course design, government, division of labour, technology, institutional policy, education trends

Citation: ["Dawson, B. (2019). Individual, Institutional and Environmental Factors Influencing Online Distance Tertiary Teaching in New Zealand (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy). University of Otago. Retrieved from"]

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