Retired Action Project 10

Improving online student success at WSCC

Project Goal:

This project will attempt to identify the issues of student retention in online courses. Online course completion is an important quality indicator that must be established and evaluated. The project will attempt to identify best practices related to student success in an online learning environment. It will specifically explore and address the factors that lead to student success in online courses at Washington State Community College as perceived by faculty who teaches online courses, staff, and students.

Reasons For Project:

There is a problem in retaining students in online classes at WSCC. More than often, student retention is more evident in online classes compared to face-to-face classes. Several assumptions have been formulated at WSCC related to student readiness for online classes, orientation activities, sense of community, and institutional support. There is an attempt to understand why students decide to enroll (or not enroll) in online classes and why they decide to stay (or withdraw/drop) from such classes. Actions need to be taken to address student readiness for online classes and maximize retention.

Organizational Areas Affected:

This project will directly affect the area of Distance Learning at WSCC and its available services to prospective online students. Since distance learning at WSCC is directly linked to the various academic and administrative areas, all three academic divisions will be affected. Moreover, online student services help desk, library services, and the Learning Center will also be affected.

Key Organizational Process(es):

Student registration and enrollment in distance learning classes, distance learning orientation and advising, online student services (registration, help desk, library, learning center), faculty assignment for online classes, and the quality of content & delivery of online classes.

Project Time Frame Rationale:

The project will kick off at the beginning of summer quarter 2011. During summer, a team of faculty & staff from the organizational areas affected will be formed. The team will review current issues based on existing data and evidence. By fall 2011, the team will develop plans to collect data and other evidence related to student enrollment and retention in online classes. During winter & spring, the project team will develop plans and actions to improve the academic and administrative processes for recruiting and retaining students in online classes. These processes will cover areas ranging from student online readiness, enrollment, to the quality of teaching & learning activities in online courses. The project will conclude at the end of the academic year 2011/2012.

Project Success Monitoring:

The plans and activities in this project will directly be applied to and monitored in actual classes that will be offered and students who will enroll during the academic year 2011/2012 here at WSCC. At the end of each quarter (summer, fall, winter, and spring), a progress report will be written and mailed to all organizational areas affected. Each report will have recommendations and actions to be taken in order to improve the success of online students who are taking online classes at WSCC. Stakeholders (faculty, staff, and students) will have numerous opportunities to provide feedback throughout the project.

Project Outcome Measures:

Online classes at WSCC have reached a critical mass, and both faculty and students recognize that we need to consider how this mode of instruction impact academic culture and quality of the institution. There is a difference in course completion rate between online and face-to-face courses. We need to look at and try self assessment tools that measure student readiness for online classes. Moreover, we need to review the academic advising process and the knowledge in online classes of professional staff who provide advising as well as faculty advisors. Students who take online classes will be survey at mid-point and at the end of this project to determine their perspective about online learning.

Annual Update: Project Accomplishments and Status:

Although this Action Project was declared in mid-June 2011, WSCC has been doing extensive work that has contributed to online student success. Over the past few months, we modified our standard LMS (Sakai) course template to reflect three important Quality Matters™ general standards. The inclusion of these content design standards is now part of all online and blended courses offered at WSCC and the content is controlled by the E-Learning Center at WSCC. Moreover, WSCC now gives public access to a sample course site in Sakai so any student or community members can login, navigate, and get familiar with the system. We believe this step will give prospective online students the opportunity to decide whether online classes are for them. Finally, throughout the past year, we have been collecting online and blended student class feedback through specially-designed online class evaluation forms. We will continue to analyze and evaluate these feedbacks in order to continue improving our online classes' environment, quality of content, and quality of delivery. Earlier this summer, we formed an Action Project team that includes faculty members and student services and retention staff. The team met recently and decided on steps to be implemented that will help WSCC collect further student, faculty, and staff feedback that will lead to additional improvements to enhance online student success.

Institution Involvement:

The project directly impacts the area of distance learning at WSCC and its available services to prospective online students. Since distance learning at WSCC is directly linked to the various academic and administrative areas, all three academic divisions will be involved. Faculty will focus more on issues of quality in their online and blended courses. Moreover, student services, retention, Help Desk, MIS, library services, and the Learning Center are also affected, and the project team either has representatives from these areas or is working closely with them to come up with ideas and improvements that will contribute to increasing retention in online classes and improving success rates.

Next Steps:

Within the next month, the Retention Coordinator will compile a full report that will help us accurately compare retention and success rates between online and traditional classes. Based on this information, the team will work on developing some data collection tools for students and faculty/staff. Some of the ideas include the establishment of an online community to which students are invited to provide suggestions and feedback. Incentives will be offered for those students who participate in such forums. A similar community will be also established for faculty and staff. In addition, we will review the current class evaluation for online classes and try to tweak some of the questions in order to get more feedback relevant to this project.

Resulting Effective Practices:

As described in Question 1, part of our effort is to provide a more effective and efficient online learning environment. We worked diligently to improve our learning management system environment (Sakai). We now have a stable web-based environment that provides a standard look and feel for both students and faculty. Institutional support services are standardized in all Sakai course sites and the template cannot be changed by the instructors. This way we ensure all sites have the same institutional resources. As part of supporting faculty in this effort, we also developed a template system by which faculty work as teams to improve the quality of their individual course/subject content and roll it into individual courses. For that, more than 50 faculty members involved in online and blended courses have already participated in the Quality Matters Rubric training over the last two years and some of them became Certified Peer Reviewers and Master Reviewers. MIS and IT department increased their support to distance learning by working on integrating Sakai with our Student Information System (WebAdvisor) to provide efficient system access and automatic course creation and student roster updates in all Sakai sites. WSCC believes that its system of standardized course templates is valuable to any institution of its size when managing distance learning courses and programs.

Project Challenges:

The main challenges that still face distance learning at WSCC are student readiness and advising. It is known that online classes are not for everyone. We need to work more on how to educate students regarding their responsibilities as online students. Mastery of technology is only one aspect of readiness. More important are the issues of readiness for a student-centered learning environment, self-organization, and time management. We need to make sure that students make the right decision when registering for online classes. Academic advisors and also advisors within the student services division will need to understand the issues and challenges related to student readiness for online classes so as only those who are set for success can venture into this mode of education.

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