HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
During the past year and a half, our faculty development unit has been gathering data from students about how engaged they felt in their online courses. We wanted to use this data to develop a variety of strategies for faculty to use to better engage their students. Research provides evidence for the connection between higher student engagement and persistence and retention in online programs (Boston, et al., 2010; Wyatt, 2011). Encouraging student engagement is especially important in the online environment where attrition rates are higher than in the face-to-face setting (Allen & Seaman, 2015; Boston & Ice, 2011).
The influx of nontraditional adult students in higher education has resulted in unprecedented institutional competition. Colleges and universities, vying for attention and increased enrollments, seek creative solutions to attract and retain students. Many degrees have been designed or modified to follow the cohort model, creating temporary cultures of students who participate in programs following an accelerated lockstep sequence. Cohorts start and finish programs as collective groups and share instructors and experiences along the way. Productive learning environments and the temporary culture of a group encourage student productivity and enhance the overall academic experience.
Are you an instructor who struggles to change the mindset of your students? Do you find that the students’ first questions are about grades rather than the content of the course? Do you want your students to obtain good grades but realize that the grade is a result of a student who is engaged in the topic with passion, interest, and exuberance? It is this passion to learn that can be described as intrinsic motivation.
What course characteristics “satisfy” adult students? What expectations do they have for their courses? These questions are important because more and more adults now attend higher education, and many are participating in programs designed especially for them.
It’s always important to help students be successful, but with returning adults, success often seems more elusive for a variety of reasons. They often have a hard time fitting schooling in with other life demands (including family obligations and work). In addition, many adult students are worried about their abilities as students and about learning in an online environment.
Many of the learners in today’s online courses are adults who are returning to school to upgrade their qualifications. It’s worth considering what kinds of adult students are in your courses and what their needs are.
As professors, we all have seen first-time students who are so nervous that they do not even know where to begin, let alone how to achieve their educational goals. I am one of those lucky professors who works with adult students who are going back to school for a myriad of reasons, and are choosing to take online classes. Not only do these students need help with writing an academic paper, and how to submit an assignment to a dropbox, but their self-esteem and support system are sometimes lacking.
Understanding learner needs is essential for providing quality education. One approach to understand learner needs is through the use of student evaluation questionnaires which allow us to collate student feedback or suggestions. A common argument against the use of student evaluations is that students do not know their own needs. However, many studies have shown student feedback/suggestions to be reliable and valid. If we do not even attempt to understand their needs, we may fail to recognize the support they require to be successful.
Adult learners typically have very specific reasons for taking online courses and are usually highly motivated. They also bring a wealth of experience. However, being away from formal learning and having to adapt to the online learning environment can be quite challenging even for the most motivated and intelligent students.