Instructional interaction and student persistence in online education
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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

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?

  • 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?

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • Persistence Rate = Total Enrollment/Adjusted Course Enrollment

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?

  • 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

  • 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: 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?

  • 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

  • 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

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

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. 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

  • 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 & 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 Education

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

Sloan-C Conference on ALNNovember 15, 2003

Table 1Demographic & Situational Similarities

Table 2Situational Differences

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

Figure 1.Primary Method of Instructor & Student Interaction


Table 3

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

Figure 2. Non-persister Reasons for Withdrawal

  • (n =46)

Figure 3. Persister Reasons for not Returning

(n = 62)

Figure 4. Persister Reasons for Returning

(n = 279)

Table 4

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

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