Impacting Student Retention and Academic Achievement in Online Education Using Multimedia Interactive Tools

Concurrent Session 4

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

There are two core issues within any educational system: student retention and academic achievement. When students drop or fail courses, the consequences are reflected in degree completion statistics, administrative costs, and institutional performance metrics. The use of multimedia tools in instruction will have a positive impact on all of these aspects.


Marc R. Hnytka is an Instructor in the College of Liberal Arts at Ashford University. He holds a Master’s degree in Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics and a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and Marketing from Ohio State University. He is still studying at OSU, working towards his PhD in Environmental Science. Marc began his career in higher education in 2003 as a Resident Advisor assisting and counseling students. Since then he has worked in a variety of formal and informal educational settings. Since then he has worked in a variety of formal and informal educational settings including serving as a teaching fellow for the National Science Foundation from 2009 to 2011 and as a graduate teaching assistant for the Center for Life Science Education at OSU. Since starting at Ashford in 2013, Marc has been teaching a variety of courses in the Environmental Studies department including business and the environment, energy and environmental systems, environmental management, and human dependence on the environment. His his favorite thing about being an instructor is helping to facilitate an environment of collaborative learning where students can discover new ideas and perspectives together. He has embraced a student-centered approach with a philosophy of challenging and supporting his students in their academic pursuits. In his free time Marc enjoys reading, gardening, backpacking, and rock climbing.

Extended Abstract

Theories in the field of communication have particular relevance to practices in education and are most certainly useful in studying online education. One such theory that is relevant to this project is Information Theory. Information Theory is guided by Shannon and Weaver’s model of how information is transmitted from the source to the receiver (Shannon and Weaver, 1949). While many may view this model as dated, it is the basic communication model that scholars often rely upon to explain phenomena associated with process of communication. In its most basic state, the model has eight elements with the first being source, message, channel, and receiver. Other elements which were added later to the model were feedback, noise, encoding by the sender, and decoding by the receiver. This model is applicable in the online environment in that the sender (Ashford) creates a message (course content) through a channel (eCollege) that is delivered to the receiver (student). Issues arise when there is improper decoding (misunderstanding instructions) of the encoded message (instructional material) due to noise (elements of distraction) in the course room. Since we understand that feedback is essential to the process of understanding, it is our belief that the use of feedback in the form of instructor-generated video content would greatly reduce the instances of noise that may occur in the online environment. 

In a recent study, Draus and Curran (2014) studied the impact of video content in the online environment on student learning outcomes. The three areas of investigation for the study were the student satisfaction as a result of instructor-generated video, student engagement, and student performance levels. The findings revealed that there was an increase in the overall grades of the students where instructor-generated videos were present and students who viewed the content were more actively engaged in the course. 

The need for adjusting integrated communication practices is well supported by the literature. In a study of the relationship between age and student preference for learning activities in online courses, Simonds and Brock (2014) found that students in the age range of 40-57 preferred course content in video format vs younger students (22-39) indicated a preferences for interactive course materials. In “Creating an Effective Online Environment” by the Community College Research Center (CCRC, 2013), it was found that students expected that, “Teachers will guide and motivate students to learn through engaging activities and varied pedagogical approaches” while instructors expected that students will be self-motivated, independent and able to request help if needed. “Students reported a greater sense of teacher presence and caring when instructors used interactive technologies consistently and purposefully”. These perspectives indicate the presence of an instructional “gap” that can potentially be mitigated via the use of interactive multimedia tools that address course relevancy and instruction. 

Because this study will also evaluate the efficacy of interactive multimedia model discussions, it is important to understand the key characteristics of effective online discussions. Dixon (2014) identified the “Three E’s” of online discussion as experience, engagement and evaluation. An experiential and engaging model discussion tool can lead to an increase in student participation and a deeper understanding of course content. Dixon (2014) writes that the purpose of the engagement phase of discussions is for Instructors to offer students the opportunity to explore, extend and apply knowledge beyond presented text based materials.


The interactive multimedia tools were created by a third party educational development company using Storyline.  Additional modules and edits were completed in conjunction with Ashford University’s Instructional Design team. A course relevancy multimedia tool was also created to convey the relevancy of the course materials to the students at the start of the class.  The goal of the course relevancy tool is to get students excited and interested in the course topics by showing them the importance of the topics and how they relate to the students’ future careers, and their daily lives.  Two interactive multimedia discussion tools were also created. These discussion tools give students an interactive, multimedia overview of the discussion requirements, relevant discussion topics, and appropriate academic resources.  All of the multimedia tools have been uploaded to Equella.  The discussion modules have been input into the course shell within the week one and week two discussion assignments.  The course relevancy tool is provided to instructors who can simply copy and paste the embed codes into an announcement before the start of the course.


Participants were exposed to the learning modules through their participation in the class.  Instructors in the courses were also included in a separate survey which was emailed to solicit feedback and instructor perceptions of the effectiveness of the learning modules being tested. Surveys were sent via email to the participants after the conclusion of the course and were not mandatory. Survey data was collected using the survey creation and collection service.  Aggregate data on student grades, course drop rate, and successful course completion rates were collected and supplied by Ashford University Academic Data unit.


Our initial data collection included a pre-treatment samples size of 981 students who started Science 207 between 8-7-2015 and 10-5-2015 and our post-treatment sample size of 1500 students who started the course between 10-6-2015 and 12-15-2015.  This sample size should provide enough data points to draw statistically significant conclusions.  If this is not sufficient then additional data will be collected from classes starting after 12-15-2015. 


The impact of the interactive discussion modules and course relevancy module will be evaluated using correlational quantitative methods. These methods are appropriate as this research seeks to ascertain the relationship between the presences of the multimedia learning tools on student retention and academic achievement.  The independent variable will be the inclusion of the interactive course overview module in addition to the week 1 and week 2 interactive discussion learning modules.  We will measure the impact that the inclusion of these modules has on student retention, individual discussion grades, and overall course grades. All data will be analyzed using Microsoft Excel and SPSS statistical software package.  Question Pro surveys will be analyzed using Question Pro data summary and analysis tools.