This is the next post of a series of Trends & Perspectives blog posts. The Track Chairs will reflect on each of this years’ presentation tracks, analyze and discuss some of the trends that you can expect to hear about at OLC Accelerate this year, and also get the perspectives of the Best-in-Track winners.
We are pleased to introduce the Best in Track selection from the OLC Accelerate 2019 Research track. This study by Dr. Barbara Zorn-Arnold and Dr. Adam Selhorst, both from Ashford University, was selected as the Best in Track from approximately 50 presentation proposals that were submitted. One reviewer noted that “the issues discussed are extremely hot topics in current discussions in the field of higher education” and also that the impressive scale of the study and clear research design make this presentation relevant to both faculty and administration in online teaching and learning. The findings from this study fill an important gap in how we can better understand and interpret end-of-course data from online courses. In this post, Drs. Selhorst and Zorn-Arnold give an overview of their study, and we encourage you to attend their session at Accelerate to learn more about how their findings can benefit your campus and students.
The rapid expansion of online learning created greater access to higher education for individuals restrained by the traditional college experience. Today, nontraditional students such as working adults, parents, and those living in rural communities make up a majority of the Higher Ed online landscape. While the creation of nontraditional education is expanding opportunities for all, the needs of online students often differ from traditional populations and it is important to understand and nurture these needs to maximize student achievement. As such, many online programs are faced with the challenge of understanding and addressing unique learning needs while maintaining a rigorous and relevant curriculum. End-of-Course Surveys (EoCS) are one tool that can provide valuable insights to help university faculty and administration understand the learning needs of their students.
EoCS are typically used in faculty evaluations but can be viewed as a measure of popularity and then largely ignored. As faculty and administrators, we have wondered about the impact of potential student grade bias on EOCS and how we might identify which classroom experiences students find valuable and whether these experiences are correlated with their achievement. To address these questions, we evaluated EOCS from almost 60,000 online courses to determine whether there was a relationship between EoCS scores and student grades, course pass rates, and next course progression for full-time (FTF) and part-time faculty (PTF). After controlling for grade bias, we found that students taught by FTF had higher passing and next-course progression percentages than when taught by PTF (9.2% and 12.3% higher, respectively). Even though the student learning experience was significantly improved by FTF instructed students, there was no difference in student grades in courses taught by FTF and PTF. Digging deeper into the data also revealed that students consistently rated FTF higher than PTF in the areas of participation, fostering critical thinking, expertise, communicating high expectations, and quality feedback.
With this valuable data, we can now seek answers as to the source of these differences. In this case, we believe gaps in learning experiences are not a result of the faculty qualifications or abilities, but rather the time available to dedicate to course instruction. While FTF may contribute their entire work week to one course, PTF are more limited by outside responsibilities such as additional jobs. This often leads to increased turnaround time for assignments, slower responses to student inquiries, and other time management concerns that affect the support provided to students. This is likely altering student perceptions of PTF while significantly influencing their success in the classroom.
Armed with the knowledge gained through evaluation of the EoCS, we can address concerns using two key approaches.
(1) Explore new ways to streamline course delivery for PTF, allowing for greater focus on factors most associated with student success, such as timely feedback.
(2) Consider changing scheduling policies to ensure FTF are aligned with courses requiring greater time, or with higher student enrollments.
Based on the insights gained through our research, we believe that EoCS can be effectively used to assess student needs, and strategically improve course delivery and instruction. Future collaborative research opportunities exist and include meta-analyses of existing publications or compilation of multi-university student achievement data in order to gain a comprehensive understanding of generational and cultural learning needs. We hope that our results on the factors impacting student achievement can empower the online community by improving the application of performance data, and tactically planning future university research and policy.
This was an ambitious study that resulted in both actionable information and direction for future research. There is something here for a variety of roles in online teaching and learning – faculty, administrators, professional development staff, and others involved in not just teaching and learning, but data, strategy, research, and policy.
We welcome you to join us for this fantastic research session at Accelerate, and if you’re interested in learning more about the methods used in this study and how they can be applied to other large datasets, be on the lookout for a methods-focused blog post from Drs. Selhorst and Zorn-Arnold next month!