In the present study, data was triangulated and two methods of data analysis were used. Qualitative analysis was undertaken of free-text data from students’ reflective essaysto extract socially-related themes. Heuristic evaluation was conducted by expert evaluators, who investigated forum contributions and discourse in line with contemporary learning theory and considered the social culture of participation. Findings of the qualitative analysis of students’ perceptions and results of the heuristic evaluation of forum participation confirmed each other, indicating a warm social climate and a conducive, well-facilitated environment that supported individual styles of participation. It fostered interpersonal relationships between distance learners, as well as study-related benefits enhanced by peer teaching and insights acquired in a culture of social negotiation. The environment was effectively moderated, while supporting student-initiative. The mixed-methods approach of evaluating essays and discussions showed a virtual community where most participants experienced a sound balance of social- and study-related benefits, but with a stronger focus on academic matters.
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[v1] 2012-07-09 08:07:02
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