Friday, August 27, 2010

Online Students: How Do We Keep Them?

“Online students can be better retained, experience greater course satisfaction, and learn more in less time with greater ease and confidence when an online course is linked to an Academic Support System and is designed with activities and information that assist them to become a collegial group and to learn more effectively and efficiently.”  - Christ, F.L. Achieving student retention, satisfaction, and success through online pedagogy. A presentation at TechEd Long Beach, February 26, 2002.

One of the major concerns of online education is student retention. Students drop out of some online courses as rapidly as they sign up for them, often because there are poor information resources or opportunities for assistance in the online environment. Who's responsible for keeping the student in the online class? Is it the student, the instructor, the institution, or the technology? In many ways, the answer is: All of the above.

Laurie Huffman conducted a two-year study of retention and performance factors in online courses. Her study showed that the classes that used Confer (live Web conferencing) in at least a portion of the learning environment had a higher retention rate, success rate and persistence rate, as well as better achievement results.

Patt McDermid, who runs an Online Writing Center with Jeanne Guerin at Sierra College, discovered that the addition of a live tutoring resource (CCC Confer) resulted in 100% retention in language arts classes, and in dramatic improvements across all disciplines.

 As Patt says, "If you can point to students who succeed, that is real material gains and benefits... It's nice that everybody (just about) finished the courses [compared to 79% of those who did not use Confer and the Writing Center]... Our success rate is 92%. That puts in the shade the on-ground classes in our English department."

The Sierra College student comments from the Online Writing Center tell the story best (of course). "The cohesiveness of the essay is probably what makes me the most proud, and it really comes from what you taught me." "Whenever I doubted myself, I would make an appointment and have help when needed."

 Students are more likely to stick it out in your classes when they feel they can get the help or reassurance they need when it's needed. By building in a live, synchronous component, we make it possible for them - and us - to succeed.

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