RISC Survey: Challenges to Student Success

These are my notes on the latest RISC Survey called “What Challenges to Success Do Community College Students Face?” from January 2019. I am mostly concerned with the education technology aspects of this report. Much of the report deals with social issues and support which I know that many programs on college campuses are already there to address (access to housing, food, etc.). The real solutions to these problems revolve around faculty training in online learning, online tutoring, student training in how to be an online student, and open textbooks (as well as open education practices). None of the solutions require new software, any gee-whiz widgets or ideas. None of the solutions are particularly fast and easy; therefore, elearning will still be listed as one of the problems for some time to come. 

Tutoring and Support
Students ask colleges to “Offer more weekend hours for the Tutoring Center and the Library – or later hours for each. With working 8-5 M-F, and classes in the evening well past 8 PM” and they go on to point out that “there isn’t much opportunity…to visit the library or the Tutoring Center.” We have to think differently about how we support our students. More and more students are coming to community colleges who not only may not have support from families, but are working and have families themselves. This means that their time is greatly impacted and a traditional campus schedule of 8-5 M-F is not a practical one. Here, online tutoring is another possible answer.

Cost of college and the cost of living is a significant challenge: “if a book is really expensive a student is not going to purchase it making them behind in classes.” We have already made significant inroads to address this here in WA state with our support of open textbooks.

“Our survey results bear this out. Nearly one in five respondents indicated that parking presented a challenge to college success. Among those who indicated parking as a challenge, nearly all (86 %) reported difficulty parking on or near campus.” What is interesting about this to me is how much the student populations at community colleges have increased while the offerings have decreased. Online classes could be a significant answer to this problem.

Online Classes
It is significant that online classes are listed as a problem when they are a possible solution to so many of the other issues in this survey. All of the problems listed in the survey are faculty preparation problems, course design problems, and student preparation issues. Lets look at the following issues from the survey:

  • Difficulty learning material on my own 53 %
    • This is a student preparation issue – students need to learn time management and have a realistic idea about how much time it takes to take an online class
  • Lack of interaction with faculty 44 %
    • This is a faculty preparation issue. Faculty need to understand that the number one issue around student success and retention in online classes is interactivity. Faculty need to learn how to facilitate interactivity online.
  • Online classes 21 % (n = 1,295)
  • Difficulty keeping up because of no regular class times 38 %
    • Student preparation. Students need to learn how to manage their time effectively for reading and engaging online.
  • Difficulty using course technology 27 %
    • Student prep. Students need adequate training in how to be an online student
  • Lack of interaction with other students 25 %
    • This is both a faculty issue and a course design issue. Student-student and faculty-student interaction needs to be built into the lessons
  • Difficulty taking exams at testing center
    • This is an instructional design issue. Why are we doing this? Online courses can utilize a wide variety of assessments besides high stakes testing: course portfolios, projects, and group work can take the place of exams. The research shows that there is an equal to no difference in the amount of cheating that happens online versus face-to-face: and that if the test is worth more than 20%

Their conclusions include “…convenient online classes are not necessarily the answer to making things better for busy students. Our findings suggest that online courses are not without their problems. An investment in online instructional support may help improve these classes and alleviate some of the concerns students have about them.” This is access without support is not access (Tinto). I think it will also take a radical change in how some colleges view online courses. Some colleges use online classes as rewards for tenure because the thinking is that online classes can take faculty less time or that they can “teach in their pajamas.” Some colleges I have worked at gave online classes to faculty who were getting ready to retire as a way to free up classroom space and help ease the faculty member into retirement (clear out the dead wood) – you can imagine how successful those classes were. Faculty have to learn how to teach online just as students need to learn how to be online students.

Online tutoring, faculty certificates in online teaching, an online course for students to learn how to be online students, and open textbooks can solve many of these problems. I would love to talk to anyone facing these problems in their college. I have a lot of solutions that I have implemented in many colleges and that are discussed elsewhere in this blog. 

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