February 26th, 2009

Seven Ways to Improve Student Satisfaction in Online Courses


Preparing students for the online learning experience and managing expectations are critical to student satisfaction, says Marie Gould, assistant professor and program manager of Business Administration, and Denise Padavano, associate professor and program manager, Information Technology, both of Peirce College.

Students at Peirce College (whether they are face-to-face or online students) are required to take a one-credit online course that gives an overview of how the college works and helps develop students’ time management and study skills. The course uses eCollege, the same course management system used for online, hybrid, Web-supported courses at the college.

By the time students enroll in their regular courses (which are accelerated seven-week courses), they have a working knowledge of eCollege and a good idea of what to expect. But managing expectations needs to go beyond using the technology.
The following are suggestions by Gould and Padavano for improving student satisfaction:

  1. Post the course syllabus on the Web. Part of managing expectations is letting students know up front how the course is organized.
  2. Administer a learning-styles inventory. For each of her courses, Gould uses a learning-styles inventory as an icebreaker activity, and because group work is a required component of her courses, she has students share their results of the inventory.
  3. Explain the importance of group work. Because some students may object to working in groups, students need to see how they will benefit from group work. “We have to try to get students to focus on why we want them to work in teams. We’re not just putting them into teams because we want to make them suffer. [Teamwork] is a critical skill that students need to learn so they are functional when they get out and work,” Padavano says.
  4. Use team contracts. Major obstacles to group work are finding the time for students to work together and defining each group member’s roles and responsibilities. Gould has each group develop a team contract that outlines how and when the group will work together. Interaction options include e-mail, threaded discussion, text-based chat, document sharing, and audio bridging.
  5. Use a variety of assessments. Points should be spread evenly across different assessments because some students might not perform well on tests while others might not write very well.
  6. Be flexible. “I might have guidelines and even assignments prepared, but depending on the makeup of the class and students’ learning styles and personalities, I might have to adjust some things,” Padavano says. “If you find that the class is quiet, you can become more active. If you find that the students are very active, you can step back. You can facilitate based on the way that the students are participating in the course.”
  7. Provide frequent interaction. Instructors need to be responsive to students’ needs—Padavano recommends a 24-hour response time to students’ questions—but interaction is not solely the responsibility of the instructor. Students also need to interact with each other and with the content.

Excerpted from Online Classroom, vol. 6, no. 5.