Barbara Zuck, assistant professor of business at Montana State University–Northern, was teaching a 100-level online course in business leadership and wanted to understand her students’ experiences in the course. So at the end of the course she asked students three open-ended questions:
HIGHER ED TEACHING STRATEGIES FROM MAGNA PUBLICATIONS
increasing online student retention
Balancing Act: Managing Instructor Presence and Workload When Creating an Interactive Community of Learners
Increasingly, online educators are faced with two key directives that are critical for student success and retention: increasing instructor presence and building a community of learners.
End-of-course evaluations, conducted properly, can serve as valuable tools for improving online programs, but they’re not without their drawbacks.
“One of the problems is current students benefit little from the end-of-course surveys,” said Phil Ice, EdD, associate vice president of research and development at American Public University System. “Whenever you’re measuring what the student thinks of the course or their perceived learning, instructor performance, the way assets are utilized, you’re capturing that information retrospectively. So you’re not really helping the students who are engaged right now.”
Our courses are rolled out to online students with assignments scheduled for each week. Some of these assignments are relatively easy, meaning there will be weeks that are “light” in terms of scheduled assignments, while others will be “killer” weeks because of especially difficult assignments and/or a large number of assignments. While you need to prepare students to do all the assignments, it is especially important that you pre-assist them for those killer weeks. If you don’t do this, their anxiety can markedly increase, their involvement in and enthusiasm for the course can decrease, and you can lose them altogether.
Retention is a very important issue in higher education right now. It is not difficult to understand why, when you look at the budget constraints most postsecondary schools are currently facing.
The rapid growth of online education, coupled with instances of lax academic integrity and cases involving questionable instructional quality, has put the entire industry under the microscope. As a result, today’s distance education programs are looking to not only prove the quality of their programs, but improve them as well.
Many faculty have questions about the relative merits of online courses versus the traditional face-to-face classroom experiences. Researchers also have an interest in the question, and a variety of studies have been conducted with the usual mixed results but overall accumulating evidence that online courses can provide rich learning experiences. But for many faculty, it is still an open and individual question. Many would like to have the opportunity Kathleen Dolan describes.
As an increasing number of colleges and universities identify online education as a critical component to their long-term strategy, the issue of retention can no longer be ignored. It is mandatory for everyone who touches the distance learner to understand why these students leave their online courses, and what it will take to keep them there.