Student engagement in community college online education programs : an exploration of six constructs with implications for practice

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2010-05

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Fisher, Karla Ann

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Abstract

Improving student outcomes in community college online education requires understanding how institutional practices and student characteristics affect levels of student engagement in online courses. This study investigated community college online student engagement using an ex post facto quantitative methodology, reporting the results of an online survey administered to students enrolled in online courses at four community colleges and one statewide community college online consortium in the fall 2009 academic term. Online engagement levels were measured based on five constructs from the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (Active and Collaborative Learning, Student-Faculty Interaction, Academic Challenge, Student Effort, and Support for Learners) and a sixth construct from the literature (Presence). The study measured the engagement levels of 906 survey respondents taking classes exclusively online compared with 1,179 survey respondents taking classes both online and on-campus. Differences in engagement levels also were explored in terms of student characteristics including gender, race/ethnicity, age (traditional/nontraditional), enrollment status; experience in online classes, and veteran status. The results of this study revealed the following: Community college online students are less engaged than students taking courses both online and on campus.Enrollment status is a strong predictor of online student engagement; online students enrolled part-time are substantially less engaged than online students enrolled full-time. Experience with online learning is another strong predictor of engagement; as students gain experience in online courses, they become more engaged online learners. Student demographics appear to play less of a role in student engagement online than on campus. Although measurably less engaged, online students scored high on Student Effort, suggesting respondents found courses taught exclusively online required substantial individual effort. Online students are isolated relative to other students and faculty, and are unlikely to reach out to make connections within the college community without assistance. Based on their distinctive experiences and characteristics, online students should be tracked as a unique cohort within community college student populations. This study concludes with recommendations for further research and strategies that community colleges could implement to increase online student engagement, retention, and ultimately success.

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