Investigating Online Expectations for Programmatic Assessment

Concurrent Session 10

Watch This Session

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Understanding student expectations and experiences of online courses is an important aspect of the assessment and interventions of an online program. This session will present results from an online writing program assessment conducted in the fall of 2018 followed by a discussion of actionable reactions to the data collected.


Catrina Mitchum is a Lecturer in the Department of English at the University of Arizona. She earned her PhD in Composition/Rhetoric and Digital Studies from Old Dominion University. In 2018, she was, collaboratively, awarded the CCCC Research Initiative Grant. Her research interests are in retention and course design of online writing classes. She has scholarly work published in The Journal of Teaching and Learning with Technology, MediaCommons and Enculturation. She teaches first year writing and professional and technical writing courses online.

Extended Abstract

In the fall semester of 2018, the writing program at the University of Arizona had officially been online for 3 years. This program uses a flexible pre-designed course system (the pre-designed course is required the first time teaching online, and then can be adapted and adopted as needed). In order to assess the impact of the program, it was decided, by the Online Writing Program Administrator (OWPA), that it would be useful to survey students in order to determine their backgrounds and expectations and compare them to how they experienced the online writing environment.


Student backgrounds are important in online learning because understanding specific past experiences might help programs to develop instructional methods that consider cultural and linguistic differences (McCraken & Ortiz, 2013; Canagarajah, 2013; Zawacki & Cox, 2014; Django & Alim, 2017) and the impact of past learning experiences on current expectations (Hewett and Warnock 2015). Student expectations can impact student motivation, attitude, and behaviors (Campbell & Mislevy, 2012; Roberts & Styron, 2006; Bean & Metzner, 1985; Ames & Archer, 1988), which can influence overall student retention (Plietz, et al, 2015; Bean & Metzner, 1985; Friedman & Mandel, 2011; Moore et al, 2003). Understanding students’ expectations for online interaction can help programs and instructors incorporate meaningful activities to build communities (Brown, 2006), and understanding the types of support students expect to access both institutionally and at home can help programs design better assessment and retention strategies (Grillo & Leist, 2013; Morris & Finnegan, 2009).


These surveys were based on a multi-institutional research project funded by the Conference on College Composition and Communication. All of the surveys were built into the PDCs as a required part of the course for a small number of homework points. The initial surveys asked students what they expected from the online classes. For example, questions asked about interaction expectations with the instructor and classmates, expectations regarding the pace and due dates, and expected course elements. The surveys also asked students about their backgrounds. For example, questions asked about computer skills, current work situations, and linguistic background information. The initial surveys also asked for certain demographic information such as first-generation college student status, gender, current credit hours, classification, and ethnicity. In an attempt to track student experiences, the end of term surveys asked students questions in similar categories such as how much and type of interaction took place, computer skills that were required, etc. Final grades (including withdrawals) were also collected.


In order to provide immediate feedback to the students, some questions were followed by “Tips for Success.” These tips ranged anywhere from “This isn’t a self-paced course, please see your D2L course for a schedule” to a detailed list of commonly used online terminology. Some of the descriptive aggregate results were  sent to instructors of those courses with suggestions for how to act on the information provided.


In this presentation, we’ll discuss the preliminary results and analysis from questions that asked the students expectations about course content and engagement in an online environment. The presentation part of the panel will show the data analysis while simultaneously asking the audience to

  • consider what the results might suggest about the program that’s being assessed,

  • reflect on how that information might be used,

  • consider how online programs might work to create a system of assessment and feedback,  

  • reflect on possible interventions or how this information can be used to improve the student experience, and

  • ask questions.

During the five minute reflection and freewrite, the presenters will ask attendees to think about the types of expectations they think their students may have and how those assumptions compare and contrast with our data. Presenters will also prompt attendees to list the types of questions they might ask their own students about their expectations. Presenters will use, allowing attendees to ask and upvote their favorite ideas, suggestions, and questions to be discussed during both the presentation as well as the the Q&A. Presenters will share copies of study protocols and instruments as well as a list of relevant references.



Ames, C., & Archer, J. (1988). Achievement Goals in the Classroom: Students’ Learning Strategies and Motivation Processes. Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(3), 260–267.

Bean, J. P., & Metzner, B. S. (1985). A Conceptual Model of Nontraditional Undergraduate Student Attrition. Review of Educational Research, 55(4), 485–540.

Brown, N. The Regionalization of Cyberspace: Making Visible the Spatial Discourse of Community Online. Composition Forum 15, Spring 2006

Campbell, C. M., & Mislevy, J. L. (2012). Student Perceptions Matter: Early Signs of Undergraduate Student Retention/Attrition. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory and Practice, 14(4), 467–493.

Canagarajah, S. (2013). Translingual practice: Global Englishes and cosmopolitan relations. London: Routledge.

Django, P. & Alim, H. S. (Eds.). (2017). Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies: Teaching and Learning for Justice in a Changing World. Teachers College Press. New York.

Friedman, B. A., & Mandel, R. G. (2011). Motivation Predictors of College Student Academic Performance and Retention. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory and Practice, 13(1), 1–15.

Grillo, M. C., & Leist, C. W. (2013). Academic Support as a Predictor of Retention to Graduation: New Insights on the Role of Tutoring, Learning Assistance, and Supplemental Instruction. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory and Practice, 15(3), 387–408.

Hewett, Beth L., & Warnock, S. The Future of OWI.  In Beth Hewett and Kevin Eric DePew, (Eds.). (2015). Foundational Practices of Online Writing Instruction. Perspectives on Writing. Fort Collins, Colorado: The WAC Clearinghouse and Parlor Press. Available at

McCraken, M., & Ortiz, V. A. (2013). Latino/a Student (Efficacy) Expectations: Reacting and Adjusting to a Writing-about-Writing Curriculum Change at an Hispanic Serving Institution. Composition Forum, 27. Retrieved from

Moore, K., Bartkovich, J., Fetzner, M., & Ison, S. (2003). Success in Cyberspace: Student Retention in Online Courses. Journal of Applied Research in the Community College, 10(2), 107–118.

Morris, L. V., & Finnegan, C. L. (2009). Best Practices in Predicting and Encouraging Student Persistence and Achievement Online. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory and Practice, 10(1), 55–64.

Pleitz, J. D., MacDougall, A. E., Terry, R. A., Buckley, M. R., & Campbell, N. J. (2015). Great Expectations: Examining the Discrepancy Between Expectations and Experiences on College Student Retention. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 17(1), 88–104.

Roberts, J., & Styron, R. (2006). Student satisfaction and persistence: factors vital to student retention. Research in Higher Education Journal, 6, 1–18.

Zawacki, Terry Myers, & Cox, Michelle. (Eds.). (2014). WAC and Second-Language Writers: Research Towards Linguistically and Culturally Inclusive Programs and Practices. Perspectives on Writing. Fort Collins, Colorado: The WAC Clearinghouse and Parlor Press. Available at