Sustaining Students: Retention Strategies in an Online Program
by Emily Boles, Barbara Cass, Carrie Levin, Raymond E. Schroeder, and Sharon McCurdy Smith
Published on Wednesday, December 15, 2010
- With students spread across 47 states and a dozen countries, the University of Illinois at Springfield faces a significant challenge in promoting student persistence.
- Program coordinators who know each student majoring in their online degree program keep in close touch with those students to assure that their learning and academic planning needs are met.
- Online student peer mentors who model best student practices and serve as a liaison between students and faculty members provide effective support in selected classes.
- These and other approaches have resulted in an online course completion rate that hovers just two to three percent below the on-campus completion rate, and the degree-completion rate among online students is equally strong.
Read the complete article at: http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/sustaining-students-retention-strategies-online-program
3 Point Discussion Rubric (click on thumbnail to enlarge)
20 Point Rubric (click on thumbnail to enlarge)
The Timing – A barrier for course evaluation completion is timing the evaluation close to finals (Cottreau & Hatfield 2001). At UIS, course evaluations become available three weeks prior to the end of the semester. Thus, begin asking for feedback earlier in the semester!
You might be concerned that that timing may be too early to get accurate feedback from students, as not all activities and assignments have yet been completed. Research has shown, however, that the results of course evaluations completed earlier in a course are highly correlated with results of course evaluations completed finals week or after (McNulty et al. 2010). Not only do you increase the likelihood of having a higher response rate, students completing evaluations earlier provided more qualitative feedback than students completing evaluations later (McNulty et al. 2010). At UIS, these additional (write-in) comments are provided only to the instructor and are not added to the instructor’s faculty file.
The Frequency – For online course evaluations, post announcements as many times and in as many places as you can:
- Post the link in your syllabus.
- Create a specific announcement about the evaluation.
Sample Announcement – Course evaluations are open online. These are very important in improving the quality of classes at UIS. They also are an important instrument used in the promotion and tenure process for faculty members. Please take a few moments to fill out the evaluations for this class and any others you may be taking that have online evaluations: https://uisapp-s.uis.edu/courseevals/login.aspx. These evaluations are available only through Saturday, May 4.Faculty members do not see the results of course evaluations until after final grades are submitted for the term. Thanks for taking the time to fill them out!
- Include the link to the evaluation in emails and announcements until the end date (And remember the course evaluation is available at x until x date).
- Add as an item to the course calendar
Tell Students Why It’s Important – Remind students why course evalutions are important at UIS and remind them that you cannot see the feedback until after final grades are due and that it will not impact their grade in any way. Students are more likely to respond if they knew how their evaluations will be used and what decisions their responses will influence (Kidd & Latif 2003, Anderson et al. 2005; Cottreau & Hatfield 2001; Hatfield & Coyle 2013). The largest factor for not completing evaluations is that students believe the evaluations will not result in change or would not benefit them (Hatfield & Coyle 2013).
The Method – For on-campus classes at UIS, faculty have the choice of having online or in-class evaluations. Research is mixed on whether online or paper evaluations result in higher response rate, as shown below:
- Compared with paper surveys, online evaluations have been associated with increased response rates (Barnett & Matthews 2009; Anderson et al. 2005; Thorpe 2002; Hatfield & Coyle 2013).
- Online ratings produce a lower response rate than in-class ratings (Avery, Bryant, Mathios, Kang, & Bell, 2006; Benton, Webster, Gross, & Pallett, 2010 ; IDEA, 2011; Nulti, 2008).
Your class’s typical attendance rate should be considered when deciding whether the in-class or online evaluation will be more effective.
Goal #1 of the UIS Strategic Plan states that “UIS will achieve academic excellence through excellence in teaching and learning and excellence in scholarship.” Action Step #4 of the UIS Strategic Plan states that UIS will “Improve the assessment of learning outcomes and of teaching; use aggregated information from course evaluations to inform faculty development programming: a) Establish and fund a program to support improvements in the assessment of learning outcomes and program review. b) Adopt a new course evaluation instrument. c) Implement a multidimensional approach to teaching evaluation. d) Use the data from the improved teaching evaluation approach as the basis for issues addressed in faculty development programs.”
Presently, course evaluations are used for retention and promotion decisions and for course improvement. Completion of student course evaluations is imperative in evaluating curricular trends and teaching effectiveness, particularly if no other assessment methods are performed (Hatfield & Coyle 2013).
Research suggestions that student ratings of courses and faculty are a reliable and useful method of evaluating teaching and course effectiveness (Kidd & Latif 2003). In fact, student evaluations are as reliable as peer evaluations, provided that response rates are good (Paulsen 2002). However, course evaluations should be used in conjunction with other evaluation tools, such as the peer evaluation and a teaching portfolio, when evaluating the effectiveness of an instructor. Research has found that faculty members receiving the best evaluations are not always the most effective teachers according to students (Surratt & Desselle 2007). The Dr. Fox Effect, as seen in the following video, suggests that a highly expressive presenter can earn high evaluations even when the content presented is nonsensical.