Professors study how to improve online learning
Colleges in Georgia and nationwide are offering more online courses every year, but
(Oct 4, 2010) — Colleges in Georgia and nationwide are offering more online courses every year, but
there's a glitch in the system: Students are substantially more likely to drop classes
they take through a computer than courses they take in class.
Link To Articlehttp://www.ajc.com/news/cobb/professors-study-how-to-646153.html
At Kennesaw State University 15 percent of students dropped one traditional business
class, while 29 percent dropped the online version of the course during the spring
2009 semester, said business professor Stacy Campbell. Nationally, dropout rates
for online courses are between 15 to 20 percent higher.
"We're all starting to do more online classes and we're all looking at what we can
do to get students to stay in the class and enjoy the class," Campbell said.
Online courses cover the same material as traditional classes. The tuition costs
are the same and they're are on the same semester system as bricks-and-mortar classes.
But some online students struggle because they can't keep with the material, get
distracted by work or family or miss interacting with professors and other students.
Faculty use different strategies to combat this problem -- calling students at home,
sending e-mails, even asking students to sign contracts pledging to stay on top of
assignments. Campbell and five other professors at Kennesaw State's Coles College
of Business wondered whether these methods work and tested them during the spring
They didn't work. Students exposed to the strategies dropped out as often as those
who weren't, according to the study that will be published this month.
"We really tried to provide some personal touches that students may miss out on by
taking a class online," Campbell said. "The students seemed to like what we did and
it helped those who stayed in the class. But it really didn't do anything to keep
students from dropping the course."
Online learning provides students with flexibility and enables colleges to increase
course offerings without spending millions on new classrooms. More than 4.6 million
college students take at least one online class, according to the Sloan Survey of
Online Learning. While enrollment in traditional classes grew by about 1 percent
last year, online enrollment grew by about 17 percent, according to the national
About 7.5 percent of all credit hours taken by students in the University System
of Georgia come from online courses, and the goal is to increase by 1 percent a year,
Chancellor Erroll Davis said. KSU offered 330 online sections of courses in 2009;
that number is expected to grow by 22 percent by spring 2011, officials said.
Students say people mistakenly assume that online courses are easier.
"If anything, I think it might be harder," said Edward Elie, who takes course online
and in-person at KSU.
Online courses have weekly quizzes or assignments, while traditional courses may
only require an occasional exam, Elie said. Online courses lack the conversational
tone a professor provides a traditional class, requiring students to depend more
on the textbook. Also, students must be able to self-assess and determine whether
they're learning the material or not.
Students who enroll in online courses have a different agenda, said Matt Elbeck,
editor of the Journal of Educators Online. Most people who take online courses live
within 50 miles of the college offering the class -- meaning they choose to learn
online even though many of them could come to campus, he said.
"Life happens, people get busy and they drop the course but what colleges need to
do is stop treating these classes like traditional ones," Elbeck said. "Why must
they have a formal start and end date? Some people may want to take a course during
a two-week vacation, while others may need nine months to take a course because life
is busy. They need to dig deeper and customize efforts to help students."
Elie dropped one online course last spring because it was too much work along with
his two other online courses and one traditional class.
"I work full-time so I like the flexibility the online classes give me," Elie said.
"But your success is determined by your motivation. You need to be a self-starter."
Andrew Schmidt also works full-time and is enrolled in the Georgia WebMBA program
offered at KSU. Some professors post PowerPoint presentations, while others post
videos or recordings, Schmidt said. A professor may schedule live video-conferencing
with the class, but that requires everyone to be online at the same time, which goes
against the flexibility that makes online attractive, he said.
"I do miss the social interaction and if I wasn't so close to finishing I would transfer
to an in-person class," said Schmidt, who will finish this spring. "There really
isn't anything a professor can do to make me more apt to stay in one of these classes.
It just depends on your learning style. This isn't for everyone."
Campbell said reseachers are looking at the students' personality traits and experiences
in online courses to determine how to motivate students and what types of students
are most likely to succeed.
"Right now students sign up and drop out and it's a waste of time and money for everyone,"
Campbell said. "We need to find out how to make this successful for everyone. We
are just beginning to do this research, but we will find the answers."
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.