Early Intervention, Formative Assessments and Student Retention in a Fully Online Course at a HSI

Concurrent Session 2

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Online courses, from Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to required online courses have high attrition rates. This study focused on whether early intervention and mid-course formative assessments affect student retention rates in an online course.


Ida M. Jones is a Professor in the Craig School of Business and the 2016-2017 SubDirect Teaching Fellow. Ida earned her J.D. from New York University. She is the former director of Center for the Scholarly Advancement of Learning and Teaching (CSALT), now the Center for Faculty Excellence. She has taught undergraduate and graduate business law courses since 1987. Ida has taught courses in human resources law and ethics for a variety of businesses, including PELCO, St. Agnes Medical Center. Professor Jones has authored/coauthored instructor's manuals for business law textbooks and published articles in a variety of professional journals. Professor Jones has taught online , on ground and hybrid courses. She has taught fully online courses since 2000.

Extended Abstract

Teacher presence is the instructor’s design and implementation of a pedagogical strategy (or strategies) that facilitate student interaction and engagement with the course material and with each other in ways that promote student’s continual participation in the learning environment  (Anderson, Rourke, Garrison, & Archer, 2001; McKerlich, Rils, Anderson, & Eastment, 2011). In the face-to-face classroom, faculty use physical presence to help establish the faculty’s role in student learning. In an online classroom, instructors must use factors other than physical presence to demonstrate presence in that classroom. Teacher presence requires that the instructor use the technology in a way that facilitates multiple interactions without creating a barrier between the technology and student engagement with the material.


However, there are not many studies which use analytics data to determine which specific instructor activities correlate with motivating students to participate effectively to complete an online course. It is in that context that the author developed an interactive, multi-touch teaching strategy coupled with a mid-course evaluation to promote student engagement with the course, material and with each other. The strategies were employed early in the semester (during the first 3 weeks). The strategy has several components:

  1. Pre-semester e-mail to students to introduce the course, deliver the syllabus and note when the course would be available.
  2. Multiple announcements that included a summary of activities completed during the previous week and activities to work on during the upcoming week.
  3. At least one e-mail to each student during the first two weeks about the work they’d done (e.g. feedback on their introduction to their group, response to a comment they’d posted on the discussion board, etc.).
  4. E-mails to students who had not logged on in 4 days.
  5. A mid-course survey about the learning activities and course structure along with the instructor’s response to the survey results.


The results of studying the impact of these interactions can guide faculty efforts to promote student success through this series of intense interactions during the first few weeks of the semester followed by a mid-course formative evaluation.

In this preliminary examination of the data, the author uses data to establish the relationship between the teaching strategies and student retention (and achievement).


Context and Findings


This research will investigate BA88, Public Law Environment of Business offered Fall 2011, Fall 2013, and Fall 2016.  The course is a required undergraduate one-unit business law course for transfer students at Fresno State, a designated a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI). Students must take the course to meet the 4-unit business law and ethics requirement to obtain a business degree. The students enrolled in the course have transferred from another institution, typically a community college, with 3 units of business law.  Students have no option except to take the course as an online course because it is only offered using that delivery mode. Students’ responses to the requirement to take this course range from resignation to expressed hostility that they are required to duplicate a course they believe they’ve already taken. The research measures whether the interactive, multi-touch strategy during the first three weeks and the feedback from the mid-course evaluation affected student motivation and achievement.


Data Sources

This research will draw on the following data sources:

  • Blackboard data related to course activities
  • Course survey data

Works Cited

  • Anderson, T., Rourke, L., Garrison, D.R., & Archer, W. (2001).  Assessing Teaching Presence in a Computer Conferencing Context. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 5(1).
  • Buckingham Shum, Simon. (2012). Learning Analytics Policy Brief: UNESCO Institute for Information Technologies in Education.
  • Ferguson, Rebecca. (2012). Learning analytics: drivers, developments and challenges. International Journal of Technology Enhanced Learning, 4(5-6), 304-317.
  • Fritz, John. (2011). Classroom walls that talk: Using online course activity data of successful students to raise self-awareness of underperforming peers. The Internet and Higher Education, 14(2), 89-97. doi: 10.1016/j.iheduc.2010.07.007
  • Jaggars, S., & Bailey, T. (2010). Effectiveness of Fully Online Courses for College Students: Response to a Department of Education Meta-Analysis. In C. C. R. Center (Ed.). New York, New York: Teacher's College, Columbia University.
  • Kaupp, R. (2012). Online Penalty:  The Impact of Online Instruction on the Latino-White Achievement Gap. Journal of Applied Research in the Community College, 12(2).
  • Macfadyen, L. P., & Dawson, S. (2010). Mining LMS data to develop an "early warning system" for educators:  A Proof of Concept. Computers & Education(54), 11.
  • McKerlich, R., Rils, M., Anderson, T., & Eastment, B. (2011). Student Perceptions of Teaching Presence, Social Presence and Cognitive Presence in a Virtual World. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching 7(3).
  • National Commission on Adult Literacy. (2008). Reach Higher, America: Overcoming Crisis in the U.S. Workforce. In N. C. o. A. Literacy (Ed.).
  • Reason, R. D. (2009). An Examination of Persistence Research Through the Lens of a Comprehensive Conceptual Framework. Journal of College Student Development, 50(6), 659-682.
  • Ryabov, I. (2012). The Effect of Time Online on Grades in Online Sociology Courses. MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 8(1).
  • Siemens, G., & Long, P. (2011). Penetrating the Fog:  Analytics in Learning and Education. Educause Quarterly, 46(5).
  • Whitmer, J., Fernandes, K., & Allen, B. (2012). Analytics in Progress: Technology Use, Student Characteristics, and Student Achievement. Educause Review Online (July 2012).
  • Xu, D., & Jaggars, S. (2011). The Effectiveness of Distance Education Across Virginia's Community Colleges: Evidence from Introductory College-Level Math and English Courses. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 33(3), 360-377.