Sunday, April 13, 2014

Measuring student success in online or blended courses

Course-level measurements

Continuing our focus in this blog on student success in online and blended settings, we start with a clear and concise definition of what constitutes “success.” Deka & McMurry (2006) offer the following baseline definition: “Two common indices for measuring success are class grade and retention rates(p. 2). Different educational institutions and stakeholders might have additional criteria they would include in this definition, but these seem appropriate as a starting point. 

We could consider use of GPA instead of letter grade, to make the data easier to manipulate, although this will vary based on institution and educational level. A passing grade (Pass or C/D) might equate with academic success, measured as an indicator of student learning, although receiving credit with a poor grade may ultimately impact student status in a program based on a reduction in overall GPA putting them in academic jeopardy. In our institution, for example, grades below a C require graduate students to retake the course and impact their overall GPA.  
The 2nd indicator of success - retention rate - offers nuanced uses for how it is measured and what it reflects. Retention might include the number of students who originally enrolled in and completed an online or blended course, or it might exclude those who dropped the course before the term started. In either case, retention is typically measured using a ratio or % of students who successfully completed the course compared with those who did not. 
This is also referred to as persistence in the literature and should consider the number of students who fail the course along with those who do not complete it. Hart (2012), in her review of the literature on student persistence, provides a more nuanced interpretation of persistence, contrasting it with attrition – withdrawal from an online course - and identifying factors that might contribute to persistence in online programs.    
In the K-12 domain, Ronsisvalle and Watkins (2005) identified the following as measures of success in online courses and programs: academic performance (successful completion), retention (enrolling in future courses), academic achievement (performance and grade distribution), and stakeholder satisfaction (parent, student, teacher, etc.)" (p. 122). 

Ultimately, consideration of student success in online or blended courses should lead to questions about factors that influence failure or success. These might include those attributed to a student, to the instructor, and those outside the control of both – i.e., personal situations, parental support, institutional support, LMS, etc. See previous blog postings by Jason for more on identifying students who may struggle in online or blended courses or programs.

In my next post, I will explore program-level measurements of student success in online or blended education. 



Deka, T.S., & McMurry, P. (2006). Student success in face-to-face and distance telecasts environments: A matter of contact? The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 7(1), 1-15.

Hart, C. (2012). Factors associated with student persistence in an online program of study: A review of the literature. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 11(1), 19-42. 

Ronsisvalle, R., & Watkins, R. (2005). Student success in online K-12 education. Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 6(2), 117-124, 184.

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