The research training group’s name DIAPASON is the French word for “tuning fork” and was chosen as a symbol for research that helps students fine-tune their online learning. The project’s aim is one the foci of the ‘High-potential Research Areas of JGU’ PLATO (https://www.plato. uni-mainz.de). In DIAPASON, we aim to implement a research training group comprised of top-level PhD students who will be supervised by the multidisciplinary team of PLATO principal investigators (PIs).
As the 21st century progresses, learning using the Internet has become essential for study success in higher education. Current studies show that higher education students are increasingly using the Internet as their main source of information during classes and exam preparation, often instead of traditional sources such as course-specific lecture notes and textbooks. However, learning in an online environment also poses specific challenges for students, such as cognitive targeting, the lack of guidance, and the large quantities of diverse and sometimes misleading information. In this highly engaging media environment, students face both verified and unverified content of uncertain didactic quality and trustworthiness, which may present facts alongside half-truths and fabrications, especially in the case of non-academic sources (e.g., news, online mass and social media, forums, wikis) and impact students’ learning in both positive and negative ways.
In recent years, the problem of misinformation spreading through online sources has been widely discussed in academia through studies on ‘web credibility’, ‘information trust’, and ‘trustworthiness evaluation’. There are also various studies that focus on the qualitative analysis of domain-specific content and its didactic quality, as well as on the multimodal representations and linguistic requirements of tasks that influence students’ test performance – none of which, however, specifically focus on the online learning environment. The media-specific and framing effects of online information on information seeking behavior as well as potential learning effects were initially researched by experts from the field of media studies, but again with no particular link to (online) learning in higher education. Overall, there are only a few studies available to date on the (learning-relevant) characteristics of non-traditional online learning resources such as websites and online information and their links to student learning in higher education. The most current literature review, conducted in 2020, reveals a substantial research deficit regarding the characteristics of online information students use for studying and how these characteristics influence students’ learning in higher education.
The research training group DIAPASON aims to address the current research gaps by structurally and semantically analyzing the online information landscape, in which higher education students are acquiring a large amount of their domain-specific knowledge. Based on a systematic research review and our prior studies in PLATO (LINK), a major focus is placed on the online learning environment’s media-specific, linguistic, narrative, subject-specific, and didactic properties and quality. By mapping the features of online information that students used, including its content and framing, and analyzing the students' written responses (short essays) to the online tasks based on this information, the research training group identifies and analyzes the influences the information landscape has on students' learning.
In DIAPASON, research on students’ domain-specific learning in economics and medicine using the Internet will be linked to fields that examine the features of information in greater detail, i.e. linguistics, communication studies, and literary studies. DIAPASON offers both an ideal multidisciplinary integrative research framework and a top-level qualification environment for training PhD students in all of the participating disciplines: Their scientifically highly relevant dissertations will be connected and embedded in this interdisciplinary framework by linking several qualitative and quantitative analyses of textual materials students use for learning from a common database. Through the accompanying multilevel training and mentoring concept, the PhD students will obtain domain-specific, cross-disciplinary, and general academic qualifications as well as an excellent preparation for future careers inside and outside academia.
In the five dissertation projects, the PhD students study the characteristics of online media and information that students use for domain-specific learning. All researchers within the research group use the previously established joint corpus of online information on selected study topics in economics and medicine. They analyze the information sources and student learning outcomes in greater depth to identify and classify characteristics of the online media and information that students use for learning. The analyzes focus on (a) linguistic features and textual patterns, (b) media-specific and communicative characteristics, (c) domain-specific content and its didactic quality as well as (d) its framing and underlying narratives.