Non-Academic Obstacles to Success for Students in Large Online Graduate Programs

Concurrent Session 7

Brief Abstract

In this session, we discuss: non-academic obstacles experienced by students in a large online graduate program; demographic differences in the obstacles they experience; how these obstacles impact their studies; and which obstacles are directly related to the pandemic. We also present potential mitigation efforts suggested by students.

Presenters

Alex Duncan is the Associate Director of Student Experience for Georgia Tech's Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMSCS) program. He oversees course maintenance and TA hiring and addresses student feedback. His research interests lie at the intersection of online education, learning at scale, and student experience.
David Joyner is the Associate Director for Student Experience in Georgia Tech's College of Computing, overseeing the administration of the college's online Master of Science in Computer Science program as well as its new online undergraduate offerings. He has developed and teaches CS6460: Educational Technology, CS6750: Human-Computer Interaction, and CS1301: Introduction to Computing, all online.

Extended Abstract

While much research has examined the obstacles that affect college students and their studies, little research has examined unforeseen obstacles faced by non-traditional students in large online programs scattered all over the world. Using a series of surveys, we offer an analysis of: the major unforeseen obstacles that students in a large online graduate computer science program face; how frequently they face these obstacles; demographic differences in the obstacles they experience; the impact these obstacles have on their studies; and which obstacles are directly related to the pandemic. We find that the most common unforeseen obstacles are related to students’ jobs, home life, and relocation, though this differs based on students’ ages, locations, and progress through the program. Over half of the students who experienced an unforeseen obstacle state that this caused them to take at least one semester off or to drop out entirely; nearly half of these state that one of their obstacles was related to the pandemic. We provide potential mitigation efforts suggested by students in course design, student services, and university policies, and we present a holistic view of these students that situates them in a broader context in which academics is one of many facets of their lives.