Improving Online Course Completion and Retention at Community Colleges:
What do we know about student learning outcomes in online courses? If one were to simply wade through the first page of Google search results for, “online course completion statistics;” the results would vary from: 1) They’re better 2) They’re worse 3) Not sure 4) It depends. The latter is most interesting, as it depends on the characteristics of the online student: Old or young, graduate or undergraduate, first generation or not, male or female, ethnic minority or white, etc.
If we just observe populations primarily served by community colleges: low-income, ethnic minority, or first-generation college students; we see that they have a tendency to significantly underperform in online courses compared to their performance in traditional courses. In order to understand why community college students underperform in online courses, a qualitative survey of twenty-three online courses in Virginia was undertaken, “Students told us that they received less instructor guidance, support, and encouragement in their online courses; as a result, they did not learn the material as well:” http://www.aacu.org/diversitydemocracy/2014/winter/jaggars.
Many community college students enter college with a great deal of anxiety, lacking study skills and knowledge of how to navigate their way to a degree or certificate. Reaching out to a professor or advisor to ask for help can be a daunting experience, thus many students struggle in silence before they ultimately fall behind and/or give up. This isolation is further exacerbated for an online student. Several studies conclude that instructors’ caring, concern, encouragement, and guidance are critical to a student’s feeling of connectedness, motivation, and academic success. Therefore, it’s critical that community colleges connect online students with their campus in order to build strong interpersonal connections and instructor guidance.
Technology is the bridge connecting online students and their academic support systems. In the same qualitative study in Virginia, students were surveyed on the value of technologies such as video narrations, “ …they mentioned not only the technologies’ intrinsic value in building skills, but also the fact that the technologies personalized the instructor…instructors who expertly leveraged interactive technology tools did so in ways that made sure that they cared about their students.”
Cranium Cafe takes this type of interactivity to a new level as it allows a student to knock on the door of her professor or advisor and instantly have face-to-face interaction in a FERPA and ADA collaborative environment. There’s no software to download, and no credentials to obtain; just as a student on campus can drop by for some advice or guidance, so can an online student using Cranium Cafe.
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