Step Five: Composite Description

The final step in Creswell’s (2007) recommended process for phenomenological analysis is to create a composite description of the phenomenon that blends the textural and structural descriptions into an exhaustive description of the researcher’s interpretation of the essence of the phenomenon. The composite description is provided below.

Online distance learning is an often isolating and lonely experience and many participants are mid-career professionals returning to school after an extended absence. It was previously common for students in MDDE 604 at Athabasca University to struggle with writing at an appropriate academic level, so the instructor decided to incorporate a small-scale peer review and feedback mechanism to provide academic and social support for students. When surveyed for their views on the study buddy activity, students’ responses fit into four major themes:

  1. approach to learning and cognitive skills,
  2. the value of the activity,
  3. the structure of the activity, and,
  4. negative experiences and the views of non-participants.

Students in MDDE 604 demonstrated an existing willingness to engage in deeper approaches to learning and utilize cognitive skills indicative of critical thinking, such as applying their learning to their work outside the course and extending their understanding by seeking out alternative opinions in journals and books. Those who participated in the study buddy activity indicated that the activity encouraged them to go beyond these critical thinking activities and engage in active discussion with their partner who provided an alternate viewpoint. These participants reported that their engagement with these deeper cognitive skills improved their reasoning and the quality of their work. They also reported that they felt very supported and connected as a result of engaging with a trusted and respected peer through the activity and that they were more motivated to complete their work far enough ahead to allow for the peer review process. Students were divided in their opinions of whether the activity should be voluntary or mandatory and often used the same rationales to come to opposing conclusions on the question. They were united in their view that the activity must allow for negotiation between study buddy partners with respect to the timing of their submissions to each other. Those who had a negative experience with the activity reported that the frustrations stemmed from incongruent motivations, where one partner was seen to be doing the minimum required to pass the course, or from inadequate or superficial feedback from their partner. While participants noted that the extra workload was significant, they reported that it was worthwhile. Those who chose not to participate in the activity cited a desire to work alone, the time involved in the activity, and the fear of getting a lazy partner as reasons for opting out.