WWCC offers nine degrees and three certificates fully online. While developing a plan to increase retention and satisfaction among their online students, the college created an orientation using student readiness as the catalyst that includes remediation and instruction.
WWCC found READI—Readiness for Education at a Distance Indicator—to be in line with their goals. The web-based, diagnostic tool measures a student’s abilities in five areas in regards to learning at a distance. With the reports READI provides, students receive helpful feedback about their strengths and opportunities for improvement, which can be a valuable resource as they learn how to be successful. READI also provides administrators with insights on how to help their students.
Challenges Facing WWCC’s Online Program
• Desiring to help students be successful through an intentional process that yielded results in student satisfaction and retention.
• Needing creative ways to effectively communicate with students due to a large demographic area to cover.
• Planning to create a demo course that included all necessary elements without overwhelming students.
• Providing remedial help in appropriate areas to those who needed it prior to beginning class.
• Needing a creative solution to open dialogue among online classmates in a way most convenient to them.
Solutions to Providing a Successful Online Program
Christine Lustik, director of distance learning at WWCC, organized the demo course and followed a planned process for each student. “When we found out about READI – Readiness for Education at a Distance Indicator, the timing was perfect. We were ready to enhance our efforts and a readiness tool met our need of trying to learn more about our online students. It also filled a critical niche we had of providing the students with valuable remediation to help them succeed in online courses.”
To communicate information about READI and how students access it, WWCC incorporated READI into its open demo course. The demo course is communicated to all online learners in a variety of ways: by mail along with student schedules and their username/password; by email; and with first day of course directions when registering for online courses. While Christine admits using snail mail is old fashioned and time consuming, it still works and remains part of their process.
WWCC also uses the demo course and READI in two other instances of student preparation. First, WWCC offers a one credit hour Intro to Online Learning course that is eight weeks or shorter. READI is included in that introduction course as a required element. READI supports the goal of the course, which is to help students prepare for the technology, time management, typing, and other skills and commitments needed to succeed in online courses. In addition, all instructors are encouraged to use the READI assessment as a base for the week one introduction discussions in their courses. This provides a nice follow-up for the students as they use the information in the READI assessment, such as the learning style, as a base to introduce themselves to their fellow distance learners. This helps to open up discussions among distance learners, and it supports the faculty as they learn about the students in their class.
WWCC uses the tool with the view that it is the administrator’s responsibility to understand how to help their students and their faculty, and it is the student’s responsibility to take the knowledge provided and help himself. While WWCC does not contact individual students who complete READI or use it as a tool to weed out students who may face challenges in online courses, the impact is noticeable in many ways. At the beginning of the fall 2009 semester, about 55 percent of the unduplicated online students completed the READI assessment, either voluntarily or because they were required to do so in a class. Considering not all of the students are new online students, WWCC considers this a very good number. This means when WWCC students are taking their first online course, most are being provided with some basic knowledge when they begin. When they complete the READI assessment, students obtain a report providing information on their level of technology knowledge, learning style, reading comprehension, and typing speed. In this report, WWCC also provides the students with information on how to improve in those areas, such as courses, training, or tools to help them improve their skills.
For the faculty using READI as an introductory tool in their classroom, they are now beginning their course with knowledge of what their students’ learning styles are and how that might challenge them in the online environment. READI can help faculty better prepare their content for students who have a variety of learning styles. WWCC believes preparing the students and faculty in this manner supports the chance that they both succeed in the online course environment.
Access the full 2009 Online Student Readiness Report at http://www.readi.info/documents/2009_Online_Student_Readiness_Report.pdf.
Western Wyoming Community College
WWCC was established in 1959, serving over 5,000 students in an area covering 29,000 square miles with a population of slightly less than 100,000 people. The college is a member of the Wyoming Distance Education Consortium, which supports the Wyoming communities through WyCLASS, http://www.wyclass.wy.edu/. For more information about WWCC, visit http://www.wwcc.wy.edu.
eLearningToolBox.com is a company that was born from a need to create web-based solutions for challenges in distance learning. Their team of educated professionals is interested in helping schools and businesses determine student readiness (READI.info), find quality online instructors (FacultyFinder.com), locate neutral test proctors (TestProctors.com), and obtain student feedback (PostCourse.com). For more information about these solutions, contact Julie Owen at julie@eLearningToolBox.com or 1.877.411.ELTB (3582) ext. 109.