I suppose a definition of retention would be fundamental as a starting point. It is important to undertand that distance education via the web and using mobile technology is still a relatively new initiative in education. The schools I have worked at or attended as a student did not start implementing online classes until the late 1990′s early 2000′s, given that it is still in the early stages of development.
Back in those early days of web based course you would hear about or experience courses that were not developed, faculty who failed to communicate with students and experience a confusion on how to access support services. Much has changed today as educators and institutions understand that only fully developed courses should be put on line, that distance education students need access to support services, and that integration of media can enhance the content of an online course.
However in spite of that there are several trends which have contributed to the phenomenal growth of distance education via the Internet. This includes an increased demand for courses and program by those students who would not otherwise have access to educational opportunities via other means.
Retention can mean one thing to students, another to faculty, another to administrators and quite another to those who are responsible for funding programs and providing student financial aid. What this means is that the solutions, research, and even those we survey regarding the issue of retention may have different outcomes all coming from different perspectives.
Without any substantive research to back this I would propose that retention means, to students, successful educational goal completion. Now what this means to student could be entirely different than what we assume it to mean. This could mean the he/she accessed some components of a course for informational purposes, career purposes, or personal reasons and did not even feel it necessary to complete the course. It could mean course completion but no reason to continue enrolling in courses, or taking more than one course but not advancing to a degree, and finally degree completion. For faculty this could mean successful completion of a course, successful advancement to the next level of the course, and/or successful degree completion. For administration and funders this means successful completion of a course or degree advancement. In addition to this funders want to see and loans paid back ie) a low default rate on financial aid. All have in mind that this course, courses or program will provide the student with personal fulfillment and/or the tools necessary to be a contributing member of society, having meaning work, and make a living wage.
With all of these differing perspectives on retention how does one measure it and determine what strategies should be in place to achieve the aim of improving retention of students distance education programs and courses.
There are several strategies that have been identified in the research. The study conducted by Finnegan, Lee and Morris (2008) indicates that those students who successfully completed their courses spent more time on task (as indicated by the US DOE meta-analysis of distance education) more time interacting with others, and participated in online discussions more frequently, (Lawler, 2007Sutton, Nora, 2008; Tello, 2008). While this time on task is critical it is also important to note that students would also withdraw or drop if they felt the work required of them in an online course exceeded that of the face to face course or required more reading. (Lawlor,2008) These findings indicate the delicate balance that needs to take place in evaluating content for an online course, not enough does not engage the student or contributes towards achieving the outcomes, too much and the student feels that he/she is in a correspondence course and “reading” too much. (Lawler,2008)
The faculty can access Web 2.0 tools at little or no cost to supplant the text based content of a course. He/she can use voice threads, Youtube, or some of these video related tools from Web2Go20 . I will provide a brief overview of these sites, however I cannot vouch for their reliability or safety of use this is for informational purposes only. I suggest you review the Terms of Service before using and give a few trial runs to ensure that they will meet your needs.
If, for whatever reason you choose to not use your Learning Management System to warehouse your videos I am providing the following here:
Flixtime: turns your photos and videos into stunning and unique videos in just minutes! Sign-up for a free account, and upload your images, videos and music. Then, sit back and watch your masterpiece come together!
For sharing videos with a distributed group you may want to check outSynchTube.
synchtube allows you to create rooms to share synchronzied YouTube videos.
This means everyone in the room is viewing the same video at the same time! The built in chat allows you to even discuss the best parts, or share other videos.
Watch videos with friends, or even DJ music with the social playlists — it is up to you
Masher looks like another great site to provide a “mash up” of your videos, photos, music or audio recordings.
These tools and many others like them can make your course development easier, allow you to move away from text based content to video and audio, and finally break that umbilical chord to the publisher’s power points.
These tools can also provide for greater student to student interaction, student to faculty interaction, and student to content interaction. (Tello, Louis, 2008; Lawlor, D., 2008;Disalvio, P. 2008) These interactions have also been demonstrated to be essential to student retention in the review of the literature and are also standards reviewed using the Quality Matters Rubric®.
Faculty who are intent upon doing an outstanding job will recognize that he/she almost needs to log into the course daily, to be consistently present in the course. The course will be designed from start to finish and will allow for little variance from that structure throughout the semester. However the course will be designed with few deadlines for the student so that it will meet his/her needs for flexibility which is probably one of the primary reasons why he/she enrolled in the course in the first place.
The research demonstrates that student to faculty communication is a key factor in student retention. This means that the faculty has set office hours, defines timeliness when he or she will respond to emails (sometimes 24 hours which means logging in to the course and checking email on the weekend), and timely feedback on assignment within 3 days, (quite a challenge if the course has 100 students or more)(Drouin, 2008; Tello, 2008; Lawlor, D, 2007; Finnegan, Morris, Lee 2008).
The research also reveals those student related factors that institutions may or may not be able to address. These include work related demands, time management, and technical issues. (Lawlor, D 2007; Finnegan, Morris, Lee, 2007; Disalvio, P., 2008; Lorenzetti, P 2005)
This is the first in a series of reviews of research and literature I intend to do in order to aggregate the recent findings, compile best practices and design strategies that can be implemented to improve student success.