Students’ Distress with a Web-based Distance Education Course: An Ethnographic Study of Participants' Experiences

Noriko HARA

Many advocates of computer-mediated distance education emphasize its positive aspects and understate the kinds of communicative and technical capabilities and work required by students and faculty. There are few systematic analytical studies of students who have experienced new technologies in higher education. This article presents a qualitative case study of a web-based distance education course at a major U.S. university. The case data reveal a topic that is glossed over in much of the distance education literature written for administrators, instructors and prospective students: students' periodic distressing experiences (such as frustration, anxiety and confusion) in a small graduate-level course due to communication breakdowns and technical difficulties. Our intent is that this study will enhance understanding of the instructional design issues, instructor and student preparation, and communication practices that are needed to improve web-based distance education courses.

KEYWORDS: Distance education, WWW, Asynchronous Communication, Students’ Experiences