Dr Cathy Stone, a Fellow at the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education, dropped in this week to talk about how student retention could be improved for on-line students. On-line courses provide access to education for students who would otherwise be excluded. However, like paper-based distance education courses which preceded them, on-line courses have a lower completion rate than face-to-face courses.
Cathy is and is undertaking research for "improving student transition, participation and success in online higher education". She has visited Open University UK (OUUK), as well as University of New England (UNE), and other Australian on-line institutions. I pointed out to Cathy that some of the techniques later used by OUUK were developed in Australia at UNE.
While focusing on students from specific backgrounds undertaking on-line education the same techniques for helping these students can help students more generally. Some techniques suggested in Cathy's latest bulletin are to welcome the students, post regular bulletins and follow up missing students. These and other techniques are now incorporated into training for educators, but regrettably many academics do not receive this training and fewer implement it.
Cahty is currently in Canberra and is keen to talk to educators about improving on-line education.