In this HECSU-funded project, The Open University's Leigh Fowkes investigates the pros and cons of online discussion forums as a tool for students making career choices
- 71% of students reported that participation in open discussion forums (ODFs) was helpful in supporting the gathering of career information.
- Students were generally positive, with the majority of respondents indicating that participation in ODFs allowed for the development of students' self-awareness (87%), opportunity awareness through information gathering (90.3%), understanding their career identity (94%) and for career decision making (90.3%).
- The findings confirmed a trend of increased visits and duration resulting in greater self-reported benefits to identity formation and career learning.
- 33% of students did not post in the forum. Nevertheless, cross tabulating the data revealed that these 'lurkers' should perhaps be reframed as vicarious learners, as results proved that they still derived benefits.
- When asked what they felt the benefits were of accessing careers support in an Open University careers forum (as opposed to the other available methods) students highlighted interactivity, the opportunity to learn from other posts, the knowledge and experience of people available in the forum, and the community feel.
- Asked about the disadvantages, the most common answer was that there weren't any. However, the problem of access was highlighted, with students suggesting that the amount of time the forums were open for posting and the availability of guests did not always fit with their needs or lifestyle.
- ODFs remove the barriers of time, place and immediacy that can benefit both students and careers services.
Download the full report
Bumping online discussion forums in a social media age ("IYKWIM")
About the report
This HECSU-funded report aims to discover the utility and effectiveness of online discussion forums (ODFs) in supporting the career development of Open University students. To achieve this, a mixed methods approach was adopted with the researcher utilising both qualitative and quantitative data from three sources: an online questionnaire, a qualitative description of 110 online discussion forum posts, and a thematic analysis of four semi-structured interviews.
For a number of years The Open University Careers and Employability Service has hosted and evaluated careers online discussion forums. Following a recent review of their internal quality assurance process, a need for greater clarity around the impact of ODFs in supporting the career identity, career learning and development of their distance learning students emerged. The paucity of research in connecting student participation in ODFs for career development purposes motivated the need for research that drew on existing career theory to gain a better understanding of their impact.
Leigh Fowkes is a careers and employability consultant at The Open University.
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