Instructor immediacy strategies to facilitate group work in online graduate study
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An increasing number of online graduate study programs require students to participate in collaborative work projects. And yet, educational research examining instructional strategies that facilitate learning in small groups online is limited. This article describes findings from a qualitative research project that investigated instructor immediacy at different stages of group development. The research was framed from a constructivist theoretical perspective and a descriptive research design. Participants were health care practitioners from two WebCT online graduate study programs. Data sources included four focus groups and twenty individual audio recorded transcribed interviews. The data was collected in person over a three year period, analysed for themes by two researchers, and confirmed with participants through ongoing member checking. Instructional immediacy strategies that students believed facilitated meaningful learning in small groups are presented in the three overarching stages of first, beginning/ engagement; second, middle/ encouragement; and third, ending/ closure. Findings suggested that, in the beginning/ engagement stage, learners valued knowing their instructors were available "if you need me" and that it was "safe" to contact them. In the middle/ encouragement stage, they appreciated personal help with networking and managing conflict, particularly in relation to participation and marking and they valued private feedback. And, in the ending/ closing stage, they needed opportunities to debrief and reflect.