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Enrollment and Retention Tips
With online sections even more than face-to-face sections, the process of filling seats, ensuring students get started, and minimizing drop rates can be critical factors in maintaining the viability of your classes. That's especially true in an environment where under-filled sections might be summarily cancelled. Here are some tips for maximizing student enrollment and retention in your online classes.
|Filling your section|
Get all the information about your section into the printed schedule of classes (and the online schedule of classes) in a timely fashion. Be sure the information in the printed schedule completely and clearly reflects any unusual requirements, such as face-to-face orientations, on-campus exams, etc. That kind of information must be made available to students before they register for your class.
Make sure you have a section homepage activated for your class by the time enrollment begins, and make sure it contains clear and complete information about what the class covers and how it will be run. Include details about your requirements, any face-to-face sessions, etc. This allows prospective students to see that information when they're choosing classes for the upcoming semester.
Similarly, it's a good idea to have at least one lessonusually the first week of the classavailable for prospective students to visit in advance. That means you'll need to ensure the webpage is not password-protected.
To avoid problems such as a precipitous drop rate after the semester begins, try to weed out unfit students in advance. A good approach is to make sure students know about and utilize CATE's Self-Assessment Quiz. You should always have a link to the Self-Assessment on your section homepage.
Likewise, make sure your prospective students understand your online class will be as rigorous as face-to-face sections. All the expectations should be clearly spelled out on your section homepage.
In general, you should also direct your students to the information available in the Student Handbook for online classes.
If you're already teaching another online course, don't be afraid to mention to your students that you'd love to see them again in your other online class next semester.
|Shepherding students through the check-in process|
Because students in an online class almost always need to go through a check-in process before they can get started, it's critical to make sure they know what to do.
Here's a step by step approach to maximize the likelihood that students will get the message.
1. A week or two before the class begins, send letters or postcards to your students to remind them about checking in. The letter should tell the students how to get checked in and should provide the URL to get started. Make sure you give them the right information! Note that Computing Services can provide adhesive mailing labels for all the students on your roster, but it's best to go through your departmental Administrative Assistant to get those labels. Also, make sure to request the labels far enough in advance so you'll be able to make the mailing at the appropriate time.
2. A day or two before class begins, open the check-in process for your class. (Do this via the usual routines in the CATE system, using the Section Homepage module or the Student Rosters module.)
3. Immediately after opening the check-in process, use the check-in reminder routine to automatically send out email announcements about checking in. These announcements will go to all students who provided an email address when registering for the class.
4. Optionally, use the messaging feature in your SRJC Faculty Portal account ("MyCubby") to remind students to go through the check-in process.
5. As students are checking in, you'll receive notification and you can accept them as usual.
6. At the end of the first day of class, take a look at your CATE roster. If it looks like students are not checking in as rapidly as you would prefer, use the check-in reminder routine again. (The message always reminds students to check in only if they haven't done so already.) Alternatively, you can use the same routine to grab the email addresses of the students who haven't checked in yet, and you can manually send them emails.
7. Within a couple of days of the start of class, scrutinize the situation again. If you still have students who haven't checked in, now is the time to pick up the phone and get them moving. (You can get phone numbers for your students via SRJC class rosters.) A brief conversation can remind your students that class is underway, explain to them what they need to do to check in and get started, and let them know that even in an online class there will be a living, breathing teacher.
Just as in a face-to-face class, there will always be someone who fails to show up, but following these steps should maximize the number of students who check into class and get started.
Note that it's especially important to be aware of all these issues and to follow all these steps if your section begins at an unusual time, such as in the middle of a semester or during intersession, because students are most likely to overlook the classand the check-in processif it doesn't begin at the start of the semester.
|Finding lost lambs|
Despite the clearest of instructions, preliminary postcards, and automated email notifications, some students will inevitably get lost along the way and fail to check into class. Don't just let them disappear! It is to everyone's benefit for you to exert a little effort to help get them started.
Don't hesitate to phone the student and offer assistance with the check-in process. In many cases a quick call from you is all they need.
Watch for messages sent to you by the CATE webmaster about bum email addresses for your students. Students sometimes fail to enter their email addresses correctly during check-in, in which case the message will eventually bounce back and be handled via CATE. If that happens when the student tries to check in or when you try to accept the student, then your student simply won't get the critical pieces of information needed to start the class. Be sure to pursue this with the student!
Offering an optional in-person orientation session might cost an hour or two of your time, but it can also serve as the perfect venue to assist any students who don't understand how to get started. (We recommend that you do NOT make the session mandatory; if you do, remember, along with any other kind of mandatory FTF activity, such a session requires prior notice BEFORE students register for the class.)
While it can be frustrating to search for all the lost lambs and try get them back on track, this can be a critical component of your online teaching skills, especially when two or three more students might make the difference between keeping the class or having it cancelled.
|Retaining your students|
All college classes suffer attrition. Most online classes tend to suffer exactly the same kinds of attrition as other classes, plus a few other issues (such as computer problems) that can lead to additional losses.
In the first place, in order to compensate for attrition, you might want to be especially generous in your online classes about signing add cards. If you know your online class has a track record of losing a big chunk of students every semester, then you might as well start with a larger number in the first place so you can end the semester with a class of reasonable size.
In addition, here are a few tips to help minimize attrition.
First of all, be aware of which students are doing the work and which aren't. You can easily track this information via CATE's online Roster module; it allows you to view comprehensive logs of all online activities conducted by all your students.
Sometimes online students will stop doing the work when they discover their hardware is not up to the task. If that's the case, make sure they know campus computer labs are fully equipped and they can complete their online classes in the lab.
Sometimes online students will stop doing the work when they discover they are not as computer savvy as they thought. If that's the case, sometimes it just takes a little extra hand-holding to get them back on track. Or they might be able to jump into a short College Skills class to get them up to speed before they fall too far behind in your class.
And of course some students simply need to be reminded when they're falling behind.
In all cases, don't forget that the Communications module in the CATE system gives you a easy, efficient routine for sending out private messages in bulk to multiple students.
More importantly, sometimes even online students need a little face-to-face visit. Don't neglect the possibility of a real, live office visit!
|Distance Education office
Santa Rosa Junior College, Santa Rosa, CA USA
Last Modified: Tuesday, 05-Jan-2010 15:35:18 PST
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