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Instructional Interaction and Student Persistence in Online Education. Steven Tello, Ed. D. Associate Director of Distance Learning University of Massachusetts Lowell Sloan-C Conference on ALN November 15, 2003. Objectives. Why is Instructional Interaction important?

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Instructional interaction and student persistence in online education

Instructional Interaction and Student Persistence in Online Education

Steven Tello, Ed. D.Associate Director of Distance LearningUniversity of Massachusetts Lowell

Sloan-C Conference on ALNNovember 15, 2003



  • Why is Instructional Interaction important?

  • Present research study & findings, illustrating relationship between instructional interaction and student persistence

  • Discuss the relationship between instructional interaction, student attitudes and student persistence

  • Discuss how online faculty development & online programs might be structured to support student persistence

What is instructional interaction

What Is Instructional Interaction?

  • Interaction

    • Reciprocal communication events between at least two objects(Wagner, 1994)

    • Learner:Instructor, Learner:Student, Learner:Content, and Others(Moore, 1989, Anderson & Garrison, 1998)

    • Asynchronous & Synchronous, with strengths/limits

  • Instructional Interaction

    • Communication between student & instructor, or students, which discusses course content, assignments or student progress.(Kearsley, 1995; Wagner, 1994)

    • Facilitated, mediated, by technology in online education

Why is instructional interaction important

Why is Instructional Interaction Important?

  • Formal (academic) & Informal (social) Interaction among FTF faculty & students supports achievement, retention, degree completion. (Kuh & Hu, 2001; Pascarell & Terenzini, 1976; Tinto, 1987)

  • Seven Principles of Good Practice emphasize communication & interaction (Chickering & Gamson, 1987; Chickering & Ehrmann, 1996)

  • High Positive Correlation between Student Perceptions of Interaction, Teacher Presence, Student Satisfaction and Perceived Learning in online education(Shea, Frederickson, Pickett & Pelz, 2002; Piccione, 2003)

Research study

Research Study

  • Examined the relationship between Instructional Interaction & Student Persistence in online university program

  • Population

    • 1620 students/76 online courses

    • 4 graduate courses, 72 undergraduate courses

  • Non-experimental, correlational study using a survey research methodology

  • Persister Survey - online survey instrument

  • Non-persister Survey - telephone or mail survey

  • Persistence data - Per course measure of students who completed online course

Research questions

Research Questions

  • Is there a relationship between frequency of instructional interaction and levels of student persistence in online courses?

  • Is there a relationship between method of instructional interaction and student persistence in online courses?

  • Do the reasons students provide for failure to persist in online courses differ based on the frequency or method of instructional interaction?

  • Do other variables emerge as correlates of persistence among students in online courses?

Demographic situational data

Demographic & Situational Data

  • Persister Response Rate

    • 70% by course (N=74), 64% by student (N=1122)

  • Non-persister Response Rate

    • 45% by student (N=102) RQ3

  • Persisters & Non-persisters similarly distributed in:

    • Age, Gender, Children at Home, Primary Role, INET

  • Persister & Non-persister differences included:

    • Greater % of Non-persisters worked over 40 hrs/week (66% NP, 53% P).

    • Significantly greater % of Persisters were enrolled in a program of study (72% P, 57% NP).

    • Significantly greater % of Persisters indicated Intent to Return (86% P, 58% NP)

Course persistence rates

Course Persistence Rates

  • Persistence Rate = Total Enrollment/Adjusted Course Enrollment

Question 1 frequency persistence

Question 1. Frequency :: Persistence?

  • Strong Positive Correlation between Freq. of Instructor (to student) and Freq. of Student (to student) Interaction, r50 = .68, p<.001

  • Instructor to Student Interaction occurs more frequently than Student to Student,t(51)=9.13, p=.000, mean difference = .51

  • No direct correlation between Frequency of Instructional Interaction and Persistence

Question 2 method persistence

Question 2. Method :: Persistence?

  • Methods of Interaction included:

    • Synchronous, text-based chat

    • Asynchronous discussion forum

    • Asynchronous email lists

  • Established reliability of student reported data

    • Compared student reported interaction data in 10 courses to chat & discussion archive

    • Student reported data reflected archive in 90%

    • In one course, archive was not available

Question 2 findings

Question 2. Findings

  • Differences between Per Course Primary Method of Instructor Interaction & Primary Method of Student Interaction

    • Instructors (37%) were 3X as likely as students (13%) to use All Methods Equally

    • Students (44%) were 3X as likely as instructors (15%) to use primarily Discussion Forum

  • Instructors used chat and email lists more frequently than the average student in their courses.

    • Chatt(51)=12.77, p=.000, mean difference = .58

    • Email listst(51)=15.16, p=.003, mean difference = .97

Question 2 findings1

Question 2: Findings

  • Frequency of Instructor use of a specific method was highly correlated to frequency of student use of the same method:

    • Chat Methodr50 = .80, p<.001

    • Discussion Method r50 = .87, p<.001

    • Email Methodr50 = .41, p< .01

  • These correlations supported use of Method of Interaction Indexes. However, no direct correlation observed between Method of Interaction Indexes & Persistence.

Question 3 reasons

Question 3. Reasons?

  • Why did non-persisters withdraw?

  • Why persisters did not intend to take another online course?

  • Why persisters indicated intent to return?

  • Student level, rather than course level analysis.

  • Frequencies, Percentages, Cross Tabs, Chi-Square.

Question 3 findings

Question 3. Findings

  • Non-persister reasons for withdrawal: (n=46)Work Commitments30%Content Expectations23%Instructor Contact11%

  • Persister reasons for not taking another online course:(n=62)Course Not Offered Online 29%Instructor Contact Not What Expected 11%Work Commitments 2%

  • Persister reasons for Intent to Return: (n = 279) Time Convenience45%Complete Program28%

Question 4 other correlates

Question 4. Other Correlates

  • Student Attitudes were positively related to Frequency of Instructor Interaction & Use of Asynchronous Methods

Question 4 findings

Question 4. Findings

  • Modest correlation between Student Attitude to Interaction & Course Persistence Ratesr50 = -.30, p<.05 (negative value reflects Transformed Persistence Rate)

  • Moderate correlation between Student Perception of Discussion Contribution & Course Persistence Rates r50 = -.41, p<.01 (negative value reflects Transformed Persistence Rate)

  • Contribution of Method variables were positively related to Method of Interaction Indexes.

    • Chat Methodr50 = .70, p<.001

    • Discussion Method r50 = .84, p<.001

    • Email Methodr50 = .57, p< .001

Question 4 findings1

Question 4. Findings

  • Emergence of Contribution of Method variables as correlates of Persistence & Method of Interaction Indexes suggested need for further investigation.

  • A linear regression equation was created combining the 3 Contribution of Method variables and the 3 Method of Interaction Indexes.

  • 26% of the variance in Persistence Rate was accounted for by combination of Contribution of Discussion Method and Discussion Method Index scores.R2=.26, F(2,48)=8.57, p<.05



  • Multiple factors support an indirect relationship between instructional interaction & persistence.

  • There is a positive relationship between use of asynchronous methods & both student attitudes to interaction & their online course experience.

  • Student attitudes to discussion forum combined with instructor use of discussion forum are positively related to persistence.

  • Situational & Institutional Barriers also affect a student’s decision to persist within a course or program of study:

    • Work commitment is a primary reason for student withdrawal

    • Time convenience is a primary reason for participation

    • Matriculation into a program of study characteristic of persisters

Recommendations questions

Recommendations & Questions

  • Faculty Development

    • Facilitate discussion regarding adult students

    • Who are they? What motivates participation? What barriers do they confront?

    • How can asynchronous interaction support student participation? How best to integrate asynchronous interaction into online course?

  • Technology Development

    • Why do students use particular methods?

    • Will high-speed INET increase student access or limit adults to synchronous participation?

    • Develop communications tools which support both synchronous & asynchronous interaction.

Recommendations questions1

Recommendations & Questions

  • Program Development

    • Know your students

    • Help students to know themselves, self-assessment

    • Monitor student progress toward matriculation

    • Review institutional matriculation policy & practice

    • Publicize accurate information regarding course content, timelines, expectations

    • Conduct ongoing evaluation program

    • Develop complete online programs with broad institutional support.

Instructional interaction and student persistence in online education1

Instructional Interaction and Student Persistence in Online Education

Steven Tello, Ed. D.Associate Director of Distance LearningUniversity of Massachusetts Lowell

Sloan-C Conference on ALNNovember 15, 2003

Table 1 demographic situational similarities

Table 1Demographic & Situational Similarities

Table 2 situational differences

Table 2Situational Differences

df = 1, *p<.05, **p<.01, ***p<.001

Figure 1 primary method of instructor student interaction

Figure 1.Primary Method of Instructor & Student Interaction


Table 3

Table 3

  • Intercorrelations of Frequency of Instructor Interaction by Method by Frequency of Student Interaction by Method.

Figure 2 non persister reasons for withdrawal

Figure 2. Non-persister Reasons for Withdrawal

  • (n =46)

Figure 3 persister reasons for not returning

Figure 3. Persister Reasons for not Returning

(n = 62)

Figure 4 persister reasons for returning

Figure 4. Persister Reasons for Returning

(n = 279)

Table 4

Table 4

Regression Analysis Summary for 3 Method of Interaction Index & 3 Contribution Scores Predicting Transformed Persistence Rate

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