Student Retention and Course Design – Part II

For the second part of my segment on student retention and course design I checked in with Ken Farrell, a friend of mine in TLH’s Student Success team.  Basically the guy spends all day helping students complete their online degrees and I figured it would be interesting to see how what we do translates into a student perspective.  So check out these resources, courtesy of Ken, we have a whole section of retention and buy-in oriented data on the TLH site free for perusing.  A lot are only indirectly related to retention, but it’s a start.

Ken also pointed out this piece in particular which I think is a bit dated but definitely points out the importance of good course design in keeping students enrolled.  However, I’d like to quote his final words to you:

“My purely unscientific anecdotal working hypothesis is:  students are more likely to persist to graduation when they can see clear connections between their classes and their work.  I have no data to back that up, but my impression is that programs which demonstrate their relevance in day-to-day class activities help students stay focused on school. “

A lot of what we do in developing courses is finding ways to work in the “real world.”  Be it through an experiential learning piece, case studies, or what I call “authentic assessments” where students are executing what they have learned in a real way (lesson plans, nursing professional developments, business plans etc) finding ways to learn “beyond the text” is going to be key to keeping any student involved and engaged.  

Essentially, the more unique and relevant an institution’s curriculum is, the more likely it is to have high levels of degree completion.  This is especially true in online, where so much of the usual support matrices (writing centers, academic advisers, friend groups) are harder to integrate into the student experience.  By Ken’s logic, instead of covering the standards, we should be finding ways to address them in ways that students can connect to their present and future lives.  Would you agree with that thought?  Or do you think there’s better ways to keep students moving forward?

I know a lot of this was preachy, but I hope it serves to generate ideas or thoughts to share with your faculty as they develop courses because it definitely informs how I approach them when I’m helping them plan out their visions.  I think that’s everything for this week.  Let me know if you have any questions or concerns!


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