PoP – Test Mode

Time to test!

My problem of practice continues to focus on exploring ways to improve student retention in online courses. During three of the prior modes in the design thinking process (empathize, define, and ideate), I have discovered a number of obstacles that may inhibit student success and decrease retention for students enrolled in online courses. One of the obstacles is the lack of support and assistance in the online environment where the instructor is not standing in front of the class lecturing, demonstrating, and available to immediately answer questions and provide assistance within a synchronous setting. For the prototype mode, I created two prototypes that focused on providing additional support and resources to students when it comes to learning weekly and fundamental course topics and offering assistance – the prototypes were tested by online students currently enrolled in my web programming course.

Approximately half of the students in my course participated in the testing process and provided feedback on the video that I created which walked students through creating their first web page (based on a hands-on exercise within chapter 2 of their course textbook). I participated in an online collaborative coding session with one of my students where we tested the use of an online tool called Collabedit for collaboration between students and students and their instructor. Prior to the collaborative coding session, I supplied the student with a tutorial PDF document that I created for accessing and using Collabedit and its features so the student had a basic understanding of how to join and participate in the collaboration session.

The purpose of testing the prototypes that I created was to determine if these solutions would be beneficial to online students and if the solutions would provide the students with additional support options that could be used for learning and collaborating with both the instructor and their classmates within the online classroom. If students know that assistance and additional support is available, they may be more likely to stay enrolled in the course, successfully learn the course material, and complete the course with the appropriate knowledge to continue on with their education with confidence and assurance.


Prime your Mind!

Part 2 – Prime your Mind: Actively work and think on your problem
Brain, mind, & psychology by ElisaRiva

My PoP (problem of practice) is to increase student retention in online courses.

  • Questions you are struggling with:
    • How do I narrow my focus? There are so many variables that affect my PoP.
    • How do different learning styles play into this?
    • What can I do for the students who are not prepared?
    • How do I find a possible solution when “life” gets in the way? Family responsibilities, illness, etc.
    • How will I be able to track progress?
    • Did I ask the right questions in the student survey I created?
    • Should the focus have been more on the students rather than the online environment and online classroom?
    • How important are personal connections in an online environment?
  • Issues or variables that present a problem for you:
    • Age groups, different ethnic groups, learning styles, family responsibilities, job(s), course load, student motivation, support systems, time management skills, available resources (e.g., computer, Internet connection, textbooks), finances.
    • Narrowing my focus.
    • I originally thought my teaching style, the online environment, the arrangement of materials in the online classroom were the problem but research is pointing to the different obstacles in a student’s life.
  • Thoughts you are kicking around in your head on your problem:
    • My PoP has too many uncontrollable variables.
    • My colleague sent me this article: “Why aren’t there more Michigan community college graduates?”
      • The above article (http://on.freep.com/2lnU17u) states: “Realistically, what keeps people from completion is not just on-campus issues,” said Mark Yancy Jr., the Applebaum Family Campus Coach at Henry Ford College. “There’s so much more going on in life that can cause problems.”
    • I feel I’m on the right track with my PoP, I just have to find a way to effectively execute my ideas .
    • Ask others for their opinion.
    • Am I the only teacher that experiences higher drop rates in the first week of class and the middle of class?
  • Possibilities, ideas, or solutions that have entered your mind:
    • Creating short videos that focus on sticky areas within the weekly chapter readings.
    • Enabling the chat option in my online classroom so students can meet online and chat with each other.
    • Recommend that students that they can attend a class session on campus for the same course.
    • Promoting tutoring services.
    • On/off campus study groups arranged and conducted by the students
    • Holding an online meet and greet – get to know the students and they can get to know me.
    • Offering online office hours in addition to the on campus office hours
    • Holding an optional online meeting session during the first week of class and half way through the course to connect with students.
    • Creating group activities to promote collaboration and build a support system.
    • Host a “webinar” type of session where I go over a topic and students can participate by asking questions or just watching – record the sessions so students that can’t attend can watch at convenient time based on their schedule.
    • Advise students through email, office hours, etc. about the web program and its courses.
    • Advertising and providing information within the online classroom and/or via email highlighting the student services on campus: learning centers, career services, counseling & academic advising, disability/special services, Financial Aid, Reading & Writing Studios, Veteran and military services, health and benefits assistance, child care resources, and food assistance through the food pantry.

Idea Notes

  • Videos:
    • Go through each chapter in the textbook and pick out 1-2 “sticky” areas and create short videos where I walk through a process or technique to help students better understand a particular technique – include actual coding.
    • Ask students to provide 1-2 areas in the chapter reading that they would like more clarification on. I will choose the 1-2 most popular areas based on student input and create a short video.
    • Create generic videos that I can use throughout all of my online courses demonstrating how to submit completed work, accessing the web server, and interacting with the web server, which are common practices and requirements across all the courses in the program.
  • Student Support:
    • Assemble a document that contains all the support services offered at the college that can be distributed the students: (learning centers, career services, counseling & academic advising, disability/special services, Financial Aid, Reading & Writing Studios, Veteran and military services, health and benefits assistance, child care resources, and food assistance through the food pantry).
      • The document will include the name of the service, location (if applicable), and a contact name, phone number, and email.
      • The document will be emailed out to the entire class as well posted within the online classroom.
    • Offer online office hours for students who cannot make it to on campus office hours.
      • This will be offered during a set time each week – all students welcome from multiple sections.
      • Offer Individual online assistance (by appointment) for any personal issues and/or program advising.
    • Advertise workshops at campus that promote student success.
      • Post announcements in the online classroom and send the information out to the class via email.
    • Share job/internship information within the virtual classroom and via email.
    • Encourage on/off campus study groups.
      • These are set up and managed entirely by students.
      • Offer meeting suggestions such as the campus Learning Centers or the Student Centers (at both campuses).
        • For meeting online, I can enable the chat feature in the online classroom so students can interact synchronously.
  • Making a Personal Connection:
    • Conducting “optional” online meeting sessions during the first week of class and half way through the course to connect with students.
    • Invite students to follow and connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn.
    • Holding an online meet and greet – get to know the students and they can get to know me.

Take a break…let it incubate.


ElisaRiva. (2017, February). [Brain, Mind, Psychology] [Image]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/brain-mind-psychology-idea-hearts-2062057/

PoP Define Mode: Part 2

Problem Statement

As an online web programming teacher, my PoP (problem of practice) focus will be on examining student retention in online courses and to identify the various obstacles that may inhibit success. I am using the Introduction to Web Programming online course that I teach as the focal point and the students within that course, as my target audience.

This semester I am teaching three sections of the introduction course with a total of approximately 63 students. The student demographics include ages ranging from high school juniors to adults in their fifties/sixties, a variety of different ethnic groups, and the male students greatly out number the female students in all three sections (19 females to 44 males respectively) – this is very common in the IT related courses at the college and the industry itself. The student population includes many of the following variables, usually with multiple variables applied to a single student: taking a full-time or part-time course load, working full-time or part-time, holding one or multiple jobs, family responsibilities (children), caretaker for parents, grandparents or other family member(s), Federal Aid recipients, various income levels, varying GPA scores (we are an open enrollment college), commuter college (no on campus housing), various ethnic backgrounds, language barriers and special needs requirements.

The number of possible variables that can play a role in student retention in online courses makes it difficult to pinpoint an exact single cause as to why some students are successful and some students are not successful in an online environment. I believe that being adequately prepared, possessing strong time management and organizational skills, goal setting and having a strong support system both at home and at the college play an important role in success. The direction I want to pursue with my PoP is to examine the different obstacles students are facing in online courses and focusing on those obstacles that I as a teacher, can assist with overcoming. Areas that I want to examine are: providing online support with course content (e.g., how-to videos, help discussion forums, etc.), providing online office hours (examine online video conferencing tools), develop an online support community in each course where students can share with each other (discussion forums), encourage study groups on campus, and look into possible course offerings and/or workshops that may provide students with information on study skills and time management techniques. My goal is help students feel prepared for their online course and to make the online classroom environment portray a feeling of community and support so that everyone can be successful and succeed in achieving their goals.

PoP Define Mode: Part 1

Define Mode Activity

Part A: 5 Whys? Root-Cause Analysis

  • Why 1? Retention is lower in online courses because students are not prepared to take an online course.
  • Why 2? Students are not prepared to take an online course because they lack the necessary resources such as a computer, textbook, or a reliable Internet connection.
  • Why 3? Students lack the necessary resources because they may be living on a budget or fixed income and can’t afford the resources.
  • Why 4? Students may be living on a budget or fixed income and can’t afford the resources because they may have come from a low income family environment, lost their job, waiting on financial aid money, or may have fallen on hard times due to family or personal emergencies and responsibilities or illness.
  • Why 5? Students may have come from a low income family environment, lost their job, waiting on financial aid money, or may have fallen on hard times due to family or personal emergencies and responsibilities or illness because the circumstances may have been inherited, the result of a lengthy government process (financial aid), or circumstances beyond on their control.

Part B: Why-How Ladder

View the Why-How Ladder online here.

Why-How Ladder: To prepare students to be successful in an online course.

Part C: POV (Point of View) Want Ad

Web programming teacher seeks goal-oriented, prepared, and busy students interested in successfully completing and earning a good grade in an 8-week online college course!

  • Willingness to commit to an approximately 18 hour weekly time investment and read, study, and learn the course material.
  • MUST have access to a reliable computer and Internet connection. This may include spending time at a library or using Starbucks or Panera Bread’s free Wi-Fi.
  • MUST be able to purchase the course textbook and engage with the material. This may include highlighting, adding notes to pages, dog-earing pages, or applying sticky notes to pages to mark important content. Colorful highlighting, colorful sticky notes, and creative note taking are recommended.
  • MUST have a hectic schedule that includes one or more of the following: a full-time job, multiple jobs, family responsibilities, a full-time course load at a college.
  • MUST be prepared to learn a full semester of content in half the amount of time. This includes working on assignments during work, during other courses, at odd times during the day or night, and on vacation.
  • Self-motivated, goal-oriented individuals with good time management skills and a desire for success and accomplishment in advancing their education or learning a new skill, is recommended.

Problem of Practice – CEP 817

Online Learning

Currently, I’m a member of the LMS/Online Advisory Committee at the college and often the topic of student retention comes up in conversation. Student retention is not only important in courses that are taught on campus in a traditional classroom, but also in the online environment as well. It seems that retention in online courses is an ongoing issue and we have yet to find a single viable solution. Is it the technology, the instructor, the teaching method, the student, the course? The list of questions goes on.

For some time now, I have been interested in exploring different ways to improve student retention in online courses so I thought this would be a great opportunity and an ideal problem of practice to explore. The Web Programming curriculum at the college where I teach is taught entirely online but I am going to focus on a single 8-week “Introduction to Web Programming” course (ITWP 1000) within the curriculum. This is a core introductory course within the program and is also a course that is required in many of the other IT programs at the college as well. I typically run 4 sections of the ITWP 1000 course in the Fall and Winter semesters at the college with full enrollment (26-28 students).

I have noticed that within the first week of the course; typically anywhere from 1-5 students drop the course and half way through, additional students may drop or withdraw from the course. For example, a course that begins with 26 enrolled students may end with only 18 and out of the 18, only 15 may have earned a passing grade. Unfortunately, I have no way of knowing the reason a student may drop or withdraw from a course unless the student chooses to share it with me and on occasion some students do. Time commitment, health issues, a family emergency, and finances are some of the reasons that students choose to share. Those types of issues are part of life of which we can’t control, but what about other issues such as their comfort level with technology and computers, reliable Internet access, course workload, lack of confidence, lack of motivation, or not understanding the course material? All of these are obstacles that may inhibit success.

Target Audience and Preliminary Thoughts

The students are going to be the primary target audience during my exploration into improving student retention in online courses (ITWP 1000) but I am very interested in the thoughts and opinions of my colleagues as well so they will play an additional role in my research. Some preliminary ideas of exploration (there may be more) include examining the following:

  • The use of “how-to” videos or video instruction within the course at crucial points.
  • The idea of hosting a “meet and greet the instructor” session online during the first few days of the online class.
  • The idea of hosting online sessions for some of the discussion forum activities for the course.
  • The use of online “tutoring” sessions and what technology could be used to accomplish it.
  • Establishing online office hours specifically for online students.
  • The idea of hosting 2-3 half hour (approximately) on campus sessions during the first few days of class where students can drop in to watch me demonstrate how to set up a connection to the web server and then attempt it themselves with me standing by if they need assistance.
  • The use of video conferencing software for student interaction.
  • Establishing common obstacles that may get in the way of success.

I’m very excited to dive into and explore the issues and obstacles surrounding the student retention rate in the ITWP 1000 course that I teach and the possible solution(s) to increasing student retention in the course.


SpliteShire. (2014, August). [Computer/Communication] [Image]. Retrieved from https://pixabay.com/en/macbook-notebook-apple-device-407127/