Eric Kunnen\’s GRCC Blog

Leveraging Technology to Improve Online Student Success & Retention
July 27, 2011, 10:55 pm
Filed under: Articles | Tags: , , , ,

The Chronicle recently published an article (Community-College Students Perform Worse Online Than Face to Face) related to online learning and student success rates and highlighted research which was supported by the Lumina Foundation for Education and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

In a nutshell, the report finds that students taking an online course had 82% chance of completing the course when compared with 90% in face to face courses.  For remedial courses that percentages were 74% and 85% respectively.

Here are a few key excerpts from the article (in italics) that I have found particularly useful:

  • “Online courses are a vital piece of the postsecondary puzzle,” said Shanna S. Jaggars, co-author of the study. “There are a lot of nontraditional students who would find it very difficult to attend and complete college without the flexibility they offer, but at the same time colleges need to be careful to make sure these courses aren’t just thrown together and that they are effectively serving students.”
    • This is an excellent point and underscores the importance of deliberate course design and quality checks and balances.  Quality Matters is a good resource here along with programs such as the Blackboard Exemplary Course Award Program.  In addition, Blackboard Inc. now has a partnership with Quality Matters that centers around quality courses design and effective faculty professional development.  Grand Rapids Community College is working to evaluate quality programs to move forward in improving the quality of online learning.
  • “Ms. Jaggars said lower completion rates in online courses often boil down to a combination of technical difficulties, a lack of structure, and isolation. Online students often have little training in how to navigate the online interfaces of their courses and struggle to manage their coursework without the grounding of weekly class meetings.”
    • The key here is to execute well on providing a reliable and robust enterprise course management systems like Blackboard Inc.  Further, dedicated student services, technology, distance learning, and faculty professional development departments need to coordinate efforts and provide the structure needed for streamlining services for students and faculty.  This includes specific areas around student (and faculty) support services and technical support.

      Isolation can occur easily, and this is where instructors can leverage technologies to broadcast their presence.  Not only with active participation in the course through announcements, discussion board posts, emails, etc.  But also by leveraging technologies such as Blackboard Collaborate Enterprise Instant Messaging. This instant messaging solution can effectively be used for online collaboration, office hours, and in the awareness that their instructor is present and online.
      Further using tools like Blackboard Connect for Learncan provide the personal touch that can help students succeed.  Sending text messages and text-to-voice message can improve the communication and reduce the feeling of isolation that can be common for students.  Grand Rapids Community College provides these solutions to faculty and is working to promote and create awareness of the power of “online presence” in teaching online.

      Here is a video clip that highlights the interactions possible with Bb IM:

  • Academic analytics is another important facet of this discussion.  Often there is data tucked away in our online systems that can help inform, shape, predict, and improve course delivery and student support.
    • Products such as Early Alert from Starfish Retention Solutions provide effective ways to leverage the data in course management systems such as Blackboard to better identify, track, and retain students.  Blackboard Analytics for Learnwas recently announced at the BbWorld 2011 conference as a product that takes advantage of iStrategy that was acquired by Blackboard in February of this year.

      Grand Rapids Community College uses Starfish Early Alert to identify students who may be falling behind in their online courses by automatically notifying the student and the faculty member if a student hasn’t accessed their online course within 7 days.  Also, conduct/behavior, academic performance, and manually raise attendance flags are used campus wide with the goal of intervening early to better support students.  These flags, when raised, notify the instructor, the student, retention specialists, student conduct and student affairs staff.

“The report suggests several ways to improve online courses, including increased technological support for students and more extensive training in online-teaching methods for faculty.”