Why isn’t there more cross-institutional research?

Concurrent Session 4

Brief Abstract

After conducting seven cross-institutional research studies in online learning and competency-based education, we will share what we have learned in the process and discuss ways to advance cross-institutional research.


Tanya Joosten, Ph.D., is a Senior Scientist, the Director of Digital Learning Research and Development, and advisor to the Provost for innovation projects at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Dr. Joosten leads the National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancements (DETA). She is nationally recognized in her work in blended and online learning as an Online Learning Consortium (OLC) Fellow and works to guide strategic digital learning efforts on campus, across the UW System, and nationally as an advisor to the Provost, a member of the University of Wisconsin System Learning Technology Executive Council, and a member of several national boards and committees. Currently, Dr. Joosten leads a national research initiative supported by the U.S. Department of Education working to provide access to research models and methods, facilitating innovate processes of data collection, and encouraging the replication of research across institutions through the DETA Research Toolkit to identify key instructional and institutional factors that influence student success with particular attention to underrepresented students. Dr. Joosten has a background in the social sciences hailing from the field of communication. Her notable keynotes include eLearning Asia, ITC eLearning Conference, and SACS COC President’s event, and her ideas have been highlighted on plenary panels at the UW-Madison Annual Distance Teaching and Learning conference and the OLC International Conference for Online Learning. You can find her ideas and work cited in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Forbes, U.S. News World and Report, and more. Recent interviews with Dr. Joosten are available on ResearchInAction and TOPcast available on iTunes. Her book on social media is available from Wiley Publishing, she has authored numerous articles, chapters, and encyclopedia entries on human and social interactions and digital learning, and she often writes invited blog posts and magazine articles for organizations, such as EDUCAUSE, WCET, Inside Higher Ed, and Pearson. Dr. Joosten previously worked as the Director of the Learning Technology Center leading faculty development and engagement initiatives, pedagogical and technological innovation projects, core learning technology oversight, and blended and online program development.
Rachel Cusatis is a social scientist serving as an Instrumentation Innovator - Research at the National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancements (DETA) at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee. Rachel serves as the key grant activities coordinator and liaison to the institutional partners supporting research efforts across those institutions working directly with the PIs, institutional researchers, and data analysts. This included the collection of data from each educational institution, merging of data sets, and cross-institutional data analysis. In these efforts, she has developed, reviewed, and edited student and instructor survey instrumentation and codebooks, including shared measures, definitions, and coding. Furthermore, Rachel performs quantitative analysis on student and instructor surveys merged with student grade and retention data across institutions to identify key instructional and institutional factors that influence student academic outcomes. She has contributed to key outcomes of the grant, including development of the DETA research toolkits and DETA research briefs. With a sociological perspective on the challenge of increasing access and success, Rachel is passionate about improving student experiences and outcomes in postsecondary education, particularly for consistently underserved populations within our student body like our low-income, first-generation, and minority college students.
I work as an instrumentation innovator with the National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancements. Additionally, I am an Assistant Professor at Alverno College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Extended Abstract

Cross-institutional research is important because the results provide greater generalizability since the students come from different institutions and backgrounds and the courses are from different disciplines and taught by different instructors. The increase in diversity of the sample provides greater generalizability in the results.    

The National Research Center for Distance Education and Technological Advancements (DETA Research Center, http://www.uwm.edu/deta) spent three years designing research models and conducting rigorous research in higher ed across numerous institutions (2-year and 4-year) to help us identify effective instructional and institutional practices in online and competency-based education programs. Data from student surveys, institutionally warehoused data, and interviews allowed us to gather qualitative and qualitative data for analysis to better understand what actually is influencing student outcomes in online and competency-based education programs.

This session will focus on sharing lessons learned from all aspects of research, including establishing research models, survey instrument development, data sharing agreements, data collection, data sharing, measure validation, factor analysis, and instrument refinement.  Through the experience of conducting the rigorous research, the DETA Center identified procedures and processes that help and facilitate cross-institutional research as well as those that provide obstacles. From this learning experience, an array of tools were developed to provide the larger research community with a resource in the DETA’s empirical research process.

The session will challenge participants to take the information shared from DETA and strategize how to bring them back to their institutions as a means to advance procedures and research endeavors in a hope to advance DETA cross-institutional research