Carteret Community College Title III Grant

September 27, 2010

Retaining Students in Online Education

Filed under: Conferences,Faculty Professional Development,Retention Issues — Donald Staub @ 6:46 am

Mary Walton (Division Director of Business Technologies), Patrick Keough (Director of Distance Learning) and myself are in Atlanta from Monday to Wednesday of this week, attending Academic Impressions’ workshop: Retaining Students in Online Education.” We are here to spend the next couple of days learning about and planning “…methods to track students, document progress, and put specific practices in place to ensure success,” (from the brochure).

We will be posting our learnings and impressions throughout the workshop.  As a quick overview, here’s what’s on the agenda:

  1. Rethinking Retention: “…with accountability and graduation rates becoming major issues, it is even more important to address retention in online education.”
  2. Identifying Needs: There are usually specific reasons why [online]  students enroll; being able to identify such reasons and respond appropriately can make or break a program.
  3. Developing Dashboards for Data Management: “How can you monitor progress and performance within a student’s lifecycle at your institution?”
  4. Measuring Retention Success: “Identify the significant characteristics of your student population and clarify retention goals at each step in the process from application to the end of the first term.”
  5. Critical Support Services: “…Institutions are challenged to integrate a wide range of student services to promote academic achievement and retention”
  6. Early Engagement Through Online First-Year Experiences: “… methods to engage and connect online students from the first point of contact.”
  7. The Role of Faculty and Academic Advisors in online Student Retention
  8. Delivering Support Services Online

Mark Parker and Kristen Betts led the first day’s sessions on:

  1. Rethinking Retention,
  2. Identifying Needs, and
  3. Dashboards (for data display).

My take-aways from these first three sessions:

  • First and foremost, when it comes to retention in DL, we may not be perfect, but we are doing a lot of good things.  We are providing boatloads of professional development to our faculty (thanks Title III), we are providing more and more services to our students in a cost-effective manner, we are assessing what we are doing, and we are providing training to our students to be better online learners, and we are coming to conferences such as this to gather information.
  • For me, one of the more interesting topics of discussion on the day was around “managing expectations of our students.”  The key point being – we can’t do it all, all the time.  Therefore, we need to ensure that our students understand what to expect…when they’ll get a response.  As one of our colleagues put it: “Is the service reliable…’Tell me what’s available and when it’s available.’”
  • One way to think about providing services to more students would be to collaborate with other colleges.  One suggestion was to form a consortium (as they have done in Mass.) to provide online tutoring.  Pooling of resources is a good thing.
  • How about this idea that was described by a colleague here.  At their school, they use Emoticons that students send to the help-desk. An automated email is generated and sent to students that says, “do you want me to intervene?” (this engages the student, and doesn’t require the time and effort of staff, until necessary).
  • I thought this was a good idea that one school has implemented: For all first-year courses that are taught online, phase in the use of technology. Don’t present all the bells and whistles from the outset.  Let them become comfortable with the technology in phases.
  • And, in the discussion on Dashboards,  the notion that they are not just for the leadership is obvious, but often overlooked.  As Kristen Betts pointed out: “optimize your dashboards for your division directors and program chairs”… what she referred to as “micro dashboards.”

4. Measuring Retention Success

This data-rich session was facilitated by Bill Bloemer – Research Associate at the Center for Online Learning Research and Services at the University of Illinois, Springfield (UIS)  [The director of COLRS, Ray Schroeder has a blog about online learning]. Some of the interesting discussion points that came out of this session include:

  • Students at UIS are hoarding courses…then they drop to fit their needs.  “Excessive Churn” from hoarding at the beginning of the semester is wreaking havoc with gathering true enrollment data.  There is also the issue of students not getting what they want because someone else has “gamed” the system and has grabbed a section that a student may truly need.
  • Look at withdrawals by registration date.  Is LIFO true? – one school at the conference claims that their look at their data says it isn’t. Instead, they that those students arrive focused and intent on completing a course.
  • Is there a connection between age and withdrawals?  Data that Bill showed at UIS suggests that there is.
  • Is it possible, utilizing Academic Analytics (click for Bill’s recommended reading) to predict who will get an F/W in an online course? Bill led a lengthy discussion on a binary logistical regression model he had been using to look at those students who had earned an F.   He worked backwards from this population to identify a common set of prediction variables.  What he found was that, at best, he could predict that slightly over 12% of the students in a course that will W/Fail.  Some of the “best” indicators to get him to this level of success are:
  1. the individual courses (those that have traditionally high rates of W/F;  Focus on the outliers…track only the problem courses)
  2. the student’s prior GPA
  3. prior hours resulting in an F/W (“Failure breeds failure.”  If you fail once, chances are, you’ll do it again.)
  4. student’s major
  • From our Australian colleagues (UNE-Au), Rhonda and Greg: “We take the student perspective [vis a vis] course enrollment vs. student goal success.  You may lose them in the short term, but let’s focus on keeping them for the long term.”  The interventions and practices they have designed work to this end.
  • Another insightful question worth posing (and whose answer is well worth promoting in order to get the attention of administration): What is the cost of increasing retention by 1%?

5.  Critical Support Services

  • Kathleen Polley, Director, Online RN-BS Program, University of Massachusetts Boston
  • The change has taken place from a campus-centered to a consumer-centered model where control is shared with the student.
  • Critical Services – what are the “stressors” for your population?  What’s their skill set?  How do you support them?  Use this to identify and develop your “critical services.”
  • One (successful) way that was suggested to increase Engagement: the weekly online chat – not required, but it’s used to talk about issues that are on the minds of the students in the program.  Kathleen pointed out that while online is supposed to equal asynchronous, giving equity to all students, she still has very high rates of participation in this synchronous chat.
  • Here are some poignant thoughts on Expectations:
  1. Don’t tell students  you will do things that you can’t
  2. You have to tell students what to expect from tutoring
  3. Every interaction is a “trust building” opportunity

Kathleen also talked about a successful Virtual Learning Community w/in BB…let the students use it themselves as a place to meet and discuss.  This has been a good way to build engagement among her students.

6. Early Engagement Through Online First-Year Experiences: “… methods to engage and connect online students from the first point of contact.”

  • Kristen Betts, Associate Clinical Professor, School of Education’s Higher Education Program, Drexel University
  • The average percentage of online of a student’s courseload is predicted to be 60% by 2020
  • She also suggested that we straight-out ask our students (in the student survey): Are you thinking about transferring/leaving?
  • She also argued that orientation is a process, not an event.  Their orientation is 75 minutes total…each person talks, then leaves but it continues throughout the year via their FYE.

Their FYE is event-focused…Key events:

  • Tea/wine & cheese party (they do this with a virtual component)
  • Invited speakers
  • Alumni speakers (work with John Smith/Wanda; offer courses online to alumni)

7. The Role of Faculty and Staff in Online Student Retention

  • Kathleen Polley, Director, Online RN-BS Program, University of Massachusetts Boston
  • “An assessment of student engagement must encompass the policies and practices that institutions use to induce students to take part in these activities.”
  • Not everyone (students) need to be socially connected.
  • Faculty engagement is key for student engagement….Key Consideration for faculty: “Satisfaction with Transparency”  need to know where senior management is going…Faculty satisfaction with policies
  • Kathleen suggested that during Week 4 of course, have students provide a Formative Evaluation (e.g. What have you learned so far? What would you still like to learn?)
  • Does your school have an Online Readiness Assessment? What does ?  Or, How reliable is the assessment?
  • Key indicators for student engagement: how frequently they log in, how often they read something before posting.
  • “How can we assess how often a student is engaging in the online material?”

8. Delivering Support Services Online

  • Kathleen Polley, Director, Online RN-BS Program, University of Massachusetts Boston
  • Admissions: do we really need everything we are asking for?
  • Have technology scaffolding throughout the semester in online courses [should we create technology CLLOs for each online course?]
  • U of New England – Australia: Check their library website for learning skills training (online).
  • Students look at the way you deliver your services and equate that with the way that you deliver instruction (i.e. is it quality?)

9. Benchmarking

  • Bill Bloemer, Research Associate & Dean Emeritus of Arts & Sciences, University of Illinois Springfield
  • Data point:  Terms since last registered.
  • Does your degree-audit system talk with your data warehouse?
  • SP-FA retention vs. FA-SP retention
  • What are the completion/graduation rates of those who are online-heavy in course loads?
  • “Term-earned hours” is a better predictor than “attempted hours.”
  • Course evaluation question: What is your expected grade?
  • On-ground courses using online evaluations increased overall return rate.
  • Bb has anonymous evaluation feature
  • Use online evaluation results as a component of “evaluate instructional modalities” in program review
  • Are there online-specific questions on CCSSE?


1 Comment »

  1. Nice overview of this very informative (and intense) retention workshop Don. Here are some of my thoughts so far posted on the DL Blog.

    Comment by keoughp — September 28, 2010 @ 12:16 pm | Reply

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