Student Engagement in an Online Master's Program
Concurrent Session 7
Enrollment in online courses has increased over the years. Student engagement is a key factor to ensure students’ successful completion. Given the importance of student engagement in online programs, the purpose of this study was to assess graduate students’ perception of engagement in a newly minted online special education program.
Enrollment in online courses has increased over the years (Allen & Seaman, 2013). Although there are numerous advantages of online learning, there is also increased concern about student retention, engagement and interaction in online courses (Street, 2010; Xie, 2013). Student engagement is a key factor to ensure students’ successful completion of their degree (Ivankova, 2014; Stott, 2016). Stimulating and maintaining student engagement is a major goal for educators and educational institutions since retention increases with increased level of student academic and social engagement. Student engagement information measures the individual’s intrinsic involvement with their learning, provides a measure of educational outcomes by providing a measure of the student’s involvement in the educational processes and can act as a proxy for the quality of the education that can be used for evaluation of the resources (Shulman, 2002; Ewell & Jones, 1993; Kuh et al., 1997; Kahu, 2013).
Given the importance of student engagement in online programs, the purpose of this mixed methods study was to utilize Dixson’s (2015) online student engagement measure and focus groups, to assess graduate students’ perception of engagement in a newly minted online special education program. The online master of education in special education with a concentration in general education is designed to prepare graduates with the professional knowledge and skills needed to work in a variety of settings with students identified with high incidence-disabilities. The program can lead to an endorsement in the special education general curriculum and is designed for students to work in general education classrooms where children with special needs are being collaboratively taught, resource, self-contained, residential, and various community environments. The program is a total of 40 credit hours (14 courses) and all can be taken online. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) became an integral component of developing the online coursework for the special education-general education program. The main goal behind UDL is to help educators address the differences for all students, from those with learning disabilities to those with significant academic proficiencies. Another integral component of our program was monthly seminars conducted by faculty. The seminars focused on expanding learning opportunities by engaging students in professional development activities that were covered in the online courses.
The Online Student Engagement scale (OSE) (Dixson, 2015) was used by the authors to assess graduate students’ perception of engagement in the online program. A semi-structured focus group was used to collect information regarding online course activities and other program features to assess student engagement. 31 graduate students that enrolled in the program when it began in summer 2014 were completed the survey. Mean scores for the 19 items on the OSE scale ranged from 3.19 to 4.39. The focus group participants identified three themes that emerged from this question: course design, application of material to current roles and interaction with peers and faculty. Overall, the participants in this study perceived themselves as most engaged in their program. The participants valued the flexibility offered by the program that enabled them to maintain a work-life balance while navigating graduate school, and identified having easy access to course files, course navigation and tutorials used within the online courses as ways that kept them engaged in courses.
Participants in this session will learn the outcomes of converting a traditional face-to-face master’s program into a fully online program and will have the opportunity for interactive question and answers in this discovery session. Participants will be provided with recommendations and practical advices on lessons learned and process to inform online program development.