“Ask a Question”: student use and misuse of online academic skills support

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Ashton-Hay, S, Yin, Z & Ross, AS 2018, '“Ask a Question”: student use and misuse of online academic skills support', Journal of Academic Language and Learning, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. A81-A96.

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Online academic skills support in higher education and the ways that students use such support is seldom researched. “Ask a Question” is part of one Aus-tralian university’s online academic support service for students to upload as-signment documents for review or to ask a specific question about their work. With a view to fine-tuning the online academic support service, this study in-vestigated the types of questions students ask and the ways that students use and, at times, misuse such online academic support. A mixed method corpus analysis of 600 student questions showed frequency patterns in ten categories of question types. An Academic Skills staff survey identified three main chal-lenges in meeting the needs of online student learning support. The findings revealed that students most sought general feedback about being on track for an assignment and secondly, referencing assistance. Academic Skills staff challenges related to time constraints as well as some students misusing the service through unrealistic expectations and repeated requests for assistance. One unanticipated finding was that some students voiced dissatisfaction with generic feedback from an outsourced after-hours online tutoring service and returned to Academic Skills for detailed in-depth, focused feedback. Further research may help to clarify the differences between generic and unit-based feedback in an online academic support environment provided for students. Recommendations to improve the in-house service include extending staff/student consultation time, limiting repeat appointment availability and promoting clearly the type of academic support services provided.

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