Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Student Engagement and Retention in Distance Courses

Bridget McCrea, writer for Campus Technology, recently featured the Iowa Valley Community College District’s distance education program. With rapid growth and expansion in distance learning, the college district found that many students were not adequately engaged in their education. Working with an education consultant, the college district developed a program to address student engagement and make sure students’ progress was being tracked so that no one would be left behind.

Their result was the development of a program that included four parts, each designed to work toward the goal of delivering the best learning experience to students:
  1. Online course certification to ensure the quality of online courses and course components
  2. Faculty development/training to help instructors create classes online
  3. Early warnings and alerts to pinpoint students who aren’t meeting standards or progressing
  4. A first-year retention and engagement program
The four-part program will be introduced to faculty and staff over the coming weeks, and the college district feels confident the program will work well for its students.

The challenges addressed by the Iowa Valley Community College District are not unusual for any distance learning program. Many colleges who utilize LabSim training offer their courses exclusively via distance learning or have a large distance education component, and they have discovered that LabSim is the solution to offering IT courses at a distance while maintaining course quality, supporting faculty development, engaging students, and tracking student progress.

Quality instruction. LabSim training videos are taught by industry-certified instructors who are proven experts in their technology. LabSim content strictly follows the objectives of IT industry certifications by CompTIA, Microsoft, Cisco, and (ISC)2. LabSim is tested and regularly updated with improvements to ensure quality and accuracy in videos, hands-on labs, written lessons, and exams.

Faculty training. TestOut offers tutorials, course guides, best practices documentation, and other faculty resources to give instructors support and ideas for developing distance courses around LabSim training.

Warnings and alerts. LabSim courses include built-in tracking that monitor students’ every action in the course, including their time spent in each LabSim component, their scores, and how many times they’ve attempted each component. Both students and instructors can view the reports in LabSim, making it simple for instructors to track students who may not be progressing at the rate they need to.

Retention and engagement. LabSim engages students by offering training that meets students’ different learning styles: reading, watching videos, working in hands-on labs, and evaluating knowledge in exams. Tracking their own progress toward readiness for achieving industry certification helps retain students’ interest and motivation to complete the course.

If you have taught a distance course using LabSim training, what has been your experience with student engagement and retention? Please leave a comment.

Emily Howard, TestOut

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