Establishing a Sense of Connectedness Amongst Theology Students in Distance Education


  • Nigel Vaughan Smith Laidlaw College
  • Charles Erlam Laidlaw College
  • Naomi Quirke Laidlaw College
  • Grace Sylvester Laidlaw College



distance education, social connectedness, technology, student preferences, transition pedagogy


Student engagement is required for effective distance learning. Amongst other things, it is built by fostering connectedness amongst tutors, academic advisors, and students, and by providing high-quality content and materials through appropriate technologies. Students are more likely to succeed when they experience these different aspects as a coherent whole in their learning environment. Previously, Laidlaw College’s Centre for Distance Learning refined its systems for course design and evaluated its provision of academic support. The present paper reports findings from a survey which explored student learning experiences by measuring perceptions of connectedness with tutors, advisors, and their fellow students; perceptions of an orientation event; and preferences for a variety of technologies through which students access course materials. The findings tentatively suggest that students experienced their study as an integrated whole. While there was significant variability in individual preferences relating to the use of technology, expectations that different demographic groups would have different preferences were not supported.

Author Biographies

Nigel Vaughan Smith, Laidlaw College

Nigel is a senior lecturer in the School of Education at Laidlaw College in Auckland, New Zealand. He previously worked as a research coordinator at AUT University and has taught history, psychology, and theory of knowledge in K–12 schools in New Zealand and the Philippines. His research interests include justice issues in cross-cultural encounters, the effect of internet technologies on society, and the centrality of relationship to effective teaching and learning.

Charles Erlam, Laidlaw College

Charles has a background of electrical engineering in the telecommunications industry. Charles joined the teaching staff of Laidlaw College in Palmerston North in 2001. He assumed leadership of the Centre for Distance Learning at the beginning of 2003. Charles’s research interests include distance learning technologies and the emerging church movement.

Naomi Quirke, Laidlaw College

Naomi is an academic advisor working with Laidlaw College’s distance learning students, guiding them with programme planning and study skills. She also works with subject-area experts in the design and review of Laidlaw’s distance learning courses, and in the online learning management system team.

Grace Sylvester, Laidlaw College

Grace joined Laidlaw College as a part-time student support coordinator in the Centre for Distance Learning in 2008. She has extensive experience in the New Zealand tertiary sector, particularly in teaching and learning, curriculum development, and review. Her current interest is in providing an integrated approach to the student learning experience.