Chinese International Graduate Students’ Experience of Engagement in Online Learning in Canadian Higher Education: An Ecological Perspective

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While the last decade has seen a dramatic increase in both the acceptance and use of online learning in post-secondary education (Seaman & Seaman, 2016), studies have documented both higher and lower student engagement in online learning (Muthuprasad et al., 2021). Most previous studies on online learning focused on a solitary dimension of student engagement in their analytical models (Pianta et al., 2012), rather than embracing a more comprehensive sociocultural framework. Using a narrative inquiry methodology, I examined the online learning experience of six mainland Chinese international graduate students who had at least one-semester experience of online learning in Canadian universities. Specifically, this study explored: (a) the students’ online engagement experiences; (b) factors that influenced their online learning; and (c) the role of cultural factors that influenced their online engagement. The data for the study were drawn from semi-structured one-on-one interviews and the analysis of written narratives provided by the participants. Bronfenbrenner’s ecological model served as the theoretical framework for this study, facilitating the examination of various dimensions of students’ engagement in online learning. The findings indicated that participants generally held positive perceptions of their online learning experiences, while also recognizing the inherent advantages and challenges associated with this mode of education. The study revealed that student engagement was molded by a complex interplay of factors, such as personal interests, motivation, course attributes, instructor effectiveness, technological tools, visual aids, language considerations, peer interactions, familial and social connections, and the broader learning environment. The opinions of the participants varied on commonly held beliefs about Chinese culture influencing them, with some acknowledging these preconceived notions and corresponding behaviours aligned with them, while others challenged these stereotypes and emphasized individual differences and cultural contexts. The students’ accounts also highlighted aspects of Canadian culture with regard to equality, freedom of expression, independence in education, and diverse teaching styles among professors. Applying Bronfenbrenner’s ecological system theory revealed the interconnectedness of factors at different levels. With an understanding of these dynamics, I discussed implications of the findings in conceptualizing culturally responsive teaching practices, enhanced engagement and success among Chinese international students in online learning.
online learning, student engagement
Yue, C. (2023). Chinese international graduate students’ experience of engagement in online learning in Canadian higher education: an ecological perspective (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from