First Year, Online University, and the Trouble of Digital Community
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The COVID-19 pandemic has created a novel learning environment for all universities; however, this novelty is twofold for first year students. The aim of this project is to explore the experience first years have had as online distance learners, and how this context has shaped their perceptions of university. Previous literature has found that first year is a time of identity shifting and changing friendship networks, both of which are necessary transitions for students to make as they adjust to university. Thus, analysis focused on how students were engaging with their peers online, and how peer-engagements shaped their perceptions of their integration into the university community. After conducting semi-structured interviews with students at the University of British Columbia and Dalhousie University, I found that online interaction between students was not conducive for connection. Framing interactions using the concept of sociability, I concluded that conversations were often forced and purposeful and as such were being conducted in a way that did not allow students to simply talk and get to know their peers. It was for this reason that students often had a difficult time seeing themselves as a part of the university community and as a university student in general. The isolation of online learning was further complicated by the fact that many of the students had drifted from high school friends. Though previous studies suggest this is common for many students, no university friendships were filling the gaps. Therefore, students had little emotional support from the university community.
Berger, M.H. (2021). First year, online university, and the trouble of digital community [Unpublished undergraduate honours thesis]. Dalhousie University.