Friday, 11 February 2022

Online Student Engagement Cycle

Last year I attended an online training session hosted the Tertiary Education Commission to help us better engage online learners during Covid-19 (2020). The session was presented by two academics: Dr Cathy Stone from the University of Newcastle; and Dr Teri McClelland from SIT. 

It was Dr Stone's work which I found the most useful, because she introduced me to the online learner cycle that her research formalised, looking into online learner decision-making and likely 'crisis' points.

As she described, in her own words, the model accompanying this post:

This is a way "of providing that engagement and support, [...] based on a student engagement cycle that some colleagues of mine and I developed when I was working at Open Universities Australia" (Stone et al., 2013; Tertiary Education Commission, 2020, 14:20).

..."students begin by thinking about study. Is this right for me? And that's when they're brand new and they're enrolling for the first time. But also at each point of enrolling in new subjects semester by semester. So they rethink it: is this right for me, this constant re-evaluation".

"Then they enrol. When they're first enrolling they're making that commitment. I'm going to do this qualification. When they come back the following semester the following year they're consolidating that commitment.

"Then they're waiting to start. And at the beginning it can be quite a long wait if they decide to enrol the previous year for a course that starts next year, they're waiting quite a long time. And all that time they're reviewing their decision. Even if they're re-enrolling, then they've still got the semester break usually to wait until they start again.

"And then they begin. And we all know that's a difficult challenging time of transition of beginning, even when they're continuing students starting in a new subject can be a transition as well. Then, of course, during the semester, during the time of their studies, they have assessments, they have life challenges, they have various hurdles to overcome. So they're questioning, "Will I keep going?" At all these points we can lose these students if we don't provide them with enough contact and support.

"And, of course, when they're complete, the study period or semester, what's the impact of their results. That's going to impact on the decision about whether they keep going. Again, that question: is this right for me?

"So it's very much a circular approach in terms of the particular points at which students are at risk of attrition and at which they need particular support" (Tertiary Education Commission, 2020, 14:48).

Just considering the potential exit points, or opportunities for disengagement, allows us to consider our student 'call-cycle', so we can better keep them onboard. 

There are a range of support elements which we can offer, which Dr Stone described, which will be the subject of the next blog post. 



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