Would you try a new recipe without directions? Most people wouldn’t, so why would we expect first time online learners to successfully complete an online course without directions or an online student orientation? With fifteen years of providing online courses to Wisconsin middle and high school students, we at Wisconsin Virtual School (WVS) have an intuitive belief that a student online orientation course is key to a student having academic success and completing their online course. It made sense, if we support the student by preparing them for their experience with basic navigation and online readiness information. It would be like providing them with one of the critical steps in the “recipe for success.” But are we correct in our valuation of the orientation course?
WVS has had an Online Student Orientation Course since we started in 2000. The past two years we have offered a “facilitated” Online Student Orientation Course. We have a cadre of experienced online teachers who also teach other courses for us “lightly facilitate” the course. The facilitator’s have the following expectations:
- Send welcome letters through the Student Information System (SIS) to students, and copy the parent or guardian as they enroll in the online orientation course.
- Provide the student with the Learning Management System (LMS) and SIS Quick Guides for Use.
- Inform the Local Education Guide (LEG – a local liaison between the online teacher and the school, coach/mentor role) if students are expected to complete the Student Online Orientation Course.
- Verify that the student has begun work in the orientation course by the end of the first week after a student’s start date.
- Gather/review information about student schedule, background, etc. that will help support and encourage the student.
- Ensure that students can use the course tools, understand how to access Help resources and communicate high expectations for performance and behavior.
- Take appropriate action for any student not engaged or ready to learn.
- Confirm each student has completed the Student Orientation Course.
We feel strongly that a student completing the Online Student Orientation Course is a significant indicator of a successful course performance. We provide the orientation at no cost to schools and students. It is strongly recommended that the student is enrolled in the Online Student Orientation course and that the LEG/mentor/coach assure completion.
But are we correct in our assumption that the Online Student Orientation Course is an important aspect of student success in their first online course? WVS worked with a researcher to conduct a study. Because the LEG’s role in providing the student with support and oversight is so critical, we decided to look at this issue at the school level versus an individual student level. The research question our study set out to examine was:
In schools where students perform better in the Online Student Orientation course, do students tend to perform better in their online academic courses as well?
Our data analysis method required that we focus on schools that enrolled at least 5 students in an online course (and not schools that enrolled just one or a few students). Our data for this research came from fall 2014 and focuses on 1,229 students from 82 public schools across Wisconsin. What did we learn?
- On average, students’ online course scores are higher in schools where students complete the online orientation course.
- All students successfully completing the online orientation course had an average academic course score is 83%.
- Students that did not complete the orientation course averaged an academic course score is 74%.
Does completing the online orientation course “cause” the 9-point difference in students’ academic course scores? The study was inclusive, but the research strongly suggests the following:
- The difference in scores, even after controlling for the different levels of overall academic achievement at the schools, suggests that it’s not something about the schools that is driving this difference.
- A school’s students completion of the Online Student Orientation Course predicts how well these students perform in their online academic courses.
- High rates of Online Student Orientation Course completion are associated with stronger student performance in online academic courses.
The study also indicated that students are receiving the information they need to be successful in the online course and that Local Education Guides (LEGs) are “on the ball”!
Why the Online Student Orientation Course? Students that complete the Online Student Orientation Course perform better in their online academic courses! Without it students are missing important “directions for the complete recipe” to a successful online course.