Enhance Student Success in Short-term Credit-Bearing Asynchronous Online Courses
Concurrent Session 5
Student success is always a priority in higher education. Recent reports, however, show a nationwide decline in enrollment rate and high drop rate (Melanie, 2022). This presentation will share a success story of a popular online course as well as hands-on experiences to offer tips for designing and implementing a short-term asynchronous online course which prioritizes student success and maintains an outstanding pass rate.
Student success is always a priority in higher education. Recent reports, however, show a nationwide decline in enrollment rate and high drop rate since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic (Melanie, 2022). Among all teaching formats, asynchronous online courses, which increased in popularity during the pandemic, may be one of the hardest formats to design and teach in terms of student success, with risks including alienation and an increased failure rate. The risks are heightened in short-term asynchronous online courses because of their intensity and shorter buffer time.
These problems may be solved by careful design and instruction. Since fall 2017, our institution’s libraries has offered an asynchronous online course, ULIB 101: Introduction to Library Research. This 2-credit course runs for 8 weeks with 24 students in each section. The enrollment has been expanding year by year, and we now offer an average of eight sections during each Spring and Fall semester. In addition, two three-week long Maymester and Winter Intersession sections were added to accommodate student demand. Although this course is not a core course nor is it a requisite for any discipline, many academic advisors recommend it to their students across multiple university departments. Currently, this course enrolls around 600 students each year. Freshmen form 50% of the students and the remaining 50% is distributed among the other three ranks equally. Students across a variety of disciplines enroll in this class including the Social Sciences, Health Sciences, Education, Sports Education, and Engineering.
In addition to the high demand for this course, students' grade and satisfaction rate has remained high. In the 2021-22 academic year, the overall passing rate of this course was 90% with approximately 80% of students earning a grade of B or higher. The average student satisfaction with this course is 4.7/5.0. Course evaluations make this clear, with students frequently commenting that this course is “easy to navigate and follow,” that “every assignment makes sense,” and that the instructors “facilitate the class very well.”
We would like to share a few course design and instructional strategies that we utilize to maximize the chances for student success. These strategies will be supported by practical tools and specific examples during the presentation and are ones that we hope will prove useful to you and your students as well. We believe these strategies may increase students' satisfaction scores during the evaluation process. During the presentation, we will show the course shell, LibGuide, and other instructional tools. The presentation will be interactive with in-field course designers and instructors.
The core of student success in this short-term asynchronous online course is getting students on track as quickly as possible. We achieve this through the following design strategies:
1. Backward Design: Backward design is a well-accepted course design method. However, it is easier-said-than-done. How can you encourage your students to also “think backward?” How can you ensure that they make the connection between weekly assignments and learning objectives? We will share and discuss our strategies during the presentation.
2. Showing the big picture at the beginning of the class: At the beginning of the course, we provide students information about the structure of the course via a course workflow chart, a to-do checklist, a detailed syllabus which includes how many hours students should work per week, and videos that guide students through navigating the online classroom and assignments.
3. Bite-sized and highly relevant materials: We work to make supplemental materials bite-sized, keeping videos under 6 minutes and articles under 6 pages. These articles and videos are also highly relevant to learning objectives and help students complete the module or final assessment. Furthermore, each reading is tied to an assessment, be it a quiz (summative assessment) or an exercise or assignment (formative assessment).
4. Make deadlines consistent and predictable: Keeping deadlines consistent (at the same time for each module) makes the course more predictable and thus allows students to form habits. For example, the 8-week course has two weekly deadlines: Tuesday and Friday at 11:59 pm. Meanwhile, the 3-week course has a deadline almost every day, each at 11:59 pm. We also encourage instructors to send email reminders each day a module is due.
5. Course guide for instructors: Create a common place for instructors to find important information about this course such as deadlines, answers to questions often asked by students, and solutions to common technology issues. We use Springshare’s LibGuides to create documents for instructors which includes important course documents as well as email templates to use when contacting students along with a Teams group for discussion, and an Instructor FAQ guide. We also have a collaborative document for instructors to note what went well during their course as well as any changes they would like to see that is used for revision.
Once the course design is finished, the ball is now in the instructor’s court. Given the careful course design, instructors now have an easier time utilizing instructional strategies to help students succeed. In order to ensure that students adapt to the intensive short-term course quickly, here are the strategies we suggest our instructors practice:
1. Know your students before class. Check their majors, rank, GPA, number of courses they are taking during the current semester, etc. Often this information is accessible and downloadable from registration software, like Banner, and can help instructors anticipate any difficulties students may face. For example, if a student takes more than 6 credit hours during the Maymester, a condensed, 3-week period, they may have trouble completing assignments or submitting work on time. This background information helps us understand students’ situations to have solutions prepared if needed.
2. Set up small discussion groups. Our observation shows that smaller discussion groups (made up of 4-6 people) have more interaction and meaningful discussion than larger groups. Therefore, assigning students to smaller discussion groups is critical to ensuring students are engaging meaningfully with course content and thus are more likely to understand material.
3. Monitor students’ engagement frequently. Online courses have an advantage in that the instructor can monitor students' engagement by tracking how often a student accesses the course and its content. When was their last visit to the course site? Have they opened the course at all? This data can help instructors monitor students’ engagement and reach out in a timely manner to encourage participation or to offer tips for being more engaged.
4. Give students a second chance. Although we set up deadlines for each module, instructors have the right and are encouraged to allow students to submit late work to improve their grades as long as the course grade is not yet finalized. Typically, these “delayed” students take the chance to catch up and ultimately pass the course or obtain a higher grade.
Hanson, Melanie. College enrollment & student demographic statistics. EducationData.org, July 26, 2022, https://educationdata.org/college-enrollment-statistics