Failure to Improve Online Retention

A former coworker, Cat Finnegan, worked on retention of online students. Recent articles about online students having higher drop out rates than face-to-face caught my eye. Especially the rationales. The recent articles all are about the work done at KSU (whose online class system we host, well one of them: Blackboard) which will be published in the International Journal of Management in Education as “The Impact of Student Retention Strategies: An Empirical Study”.

Online courses cover the same material as traditional classes. The tuition costs are the same and they’re are on the same semester system as bricks-and-mortar classes. But some online students struggle because they can’t keep with the material, get distracted by work or family or miss interacting with professors and other students.

Faculty use different strategies to combat this problem — calling students at home, sending e-mails, even asking students to sign contracts pledging to stay on top of assignments. Campbell and five other professors at Kennesaw State’s Coles College of Business wondered whether these methods work and tested them during the spring 2009 semester.

I am eagerly awaiting publication of this paper. I’d like to understand what actually was tried and failed rather than depend on these summaries.

The former coworker’s paper references a paper called “Seven Principles For Good Practice in Undergraduate Education” by Arthur W. Chickering and Zelda F. Gamson which addresses what are the things which help students. This seems like exactly the kind of thing Campbell et al should identify how their faculty members are addressing each in their online classes.

  • Encourage student-faculty contact,
  • Encourage cooperation among students,
  • Encourage active learning,
  • Give prompt feedback,
  • Emphasize time on task,
  • Communicate high expectations, and
  • Respect diverse talents and ways of learning.

I’m curious if some equivalent was used, how they identified the struggles of the students, and how they determined to try these methods to solve the issue.

Georgia Gwinnett College, another school in our system provided faculty smartphones so students can call. While KSU had the faculty call the students, these seem like similar approaches to improve retention.

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