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					                    Inez Farrell, Ph.D.
           Director of Instructional Technology
               Virginia’s Community Colleges
                       March 23, 2007
                  New Horizons Conference

What Leads to Student Success?


     In this age of increased academic accountability the
search for the magic bullet of student success is ever
present. Although the online learning delivery format has
been separated from its relative, the face-to-face
classroom, it appears the ingredients that lead to success
are similar in concept. Methods that increase a student’s
sense of engagement with a course and content seem to lead
to higher retention and success. A review of the literature
on three aspects of student engagement that are linked to
retention and student success: interaction, active learning
with collaboration, and critical thinking skills
demonstrate instructional design principles that foster
student success are identical in theory but differ somewhat
in technique as they are adapted to each delivery format.

     Kay McClenney and Nathan Marti, in Exploring
Relationships Between Student Engagement and Student
Outcomes in Community Colleges (2006), completed validation
research on its Community College Student Report (CCSR)
that links the Community College Survey of Student
Engagement (CCSSE) with three external data sources: (1)
data from the Florida Department of Education, (2) data
from Achieving the Dream colleges, and (3) data from
participating community colleges Hispanic student records.
In this two year study, the results show a strong
relationship between CCSSE scores and student success.
     Some of the engagement criteria was more significant
for a specific population: (1) critical thinking,
collaborative learning, and student-faculty interaction was
a high predictor overall for Florida student’s success, (2)
high benchmark scores in Active and Collaborative learning
were predicators of achievement and retention for Achieving
the Dream students, and (3) perceived support for learners
and student satisfaction supported positive student
outcomes for Hispanic students.
McClenney, K. M., Marti, C. N., (2006) Working Paper.
Exploring Relationships Between Student Engagement and
Student Outcomes in Community Colleges: Report on
Validation Research. The Community College Survey of
Student Engagement Community College Leadership Program.

     The Chronicle of Higher Education reported in November
2006 that students participating in collaborative learning
activities coupled with student-faculty interaction had a
higher degree of student success and retention. These
results came from the National Survey of Student Engagement
(NSSE) which surveyed freshmen and sophomores at four-year
colleges and universities.
     Distance learning students perceive themselves to have
the same engagement opportunities as students in
traditional classrooms. These students also reported an
equal level of interaction with faculty as their campus
counterparts. Students in distance learning courses found
the level of academic challenge and resulting knowledge
acquired to be greater than those in a face to face class.
     Students in both groups spent what faculty consider to
be inadequate class preparation time on their course work.
Wasley, P. (2006). Underrepresented Students Benefit Most
From ‘Engagement’. The Chronicle of Higher Education, Vol.
53(13) A39.

     Accepting the research findings showing student
engagement leads to student success, Shiang-Kwei Wang, in
Learning Hands-on Skills in an Online Environment: The
Effectiveness of Streaming Demonstration Animation, used
screen motion capture software to simulate instruction and
employed it in both the face to face and online sections of
his multimedia-authoring course. He assessed the
effectiveness of his method by comparing the quality of
projects from the face-to-face multimedia-authoring class
with his online class. Results showed both the face-to-face
and online students had similar non-completion, withdrawal
rates and their completed projects were equal in quality.
Wang attested to the importance of interactivity in online
learning and utilized various strategies to increase
student-to-student and student-to-instructor interaction.
Interestingly, students in the face-to-face class enjoyed
the simulated instruction to supplement their experience
with the instructor’s live demonstrations. This study

What Leads to Student Success?                   March 23, 2007
includes six instructional design strategies used to
scaffold interactive opportunities for the online learner.
Wang, S., (2006) Learning Hands-on Skills in an Online
Environment: The Effectiveness of Streaming Demonstration
Animation. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, Vol.
5(1). 1-14.

     In Satisfaction with Online Learning: A Comparative
Descriptive Study, the authors compared levels of student
satisfaction with the same Master’s program delivered in
both the face-to-face and online format using end-of-course
surveys and corresponding course evaluations. Raoch and
Lemasters noted studies of undergraduate content offered
online observed the importance of particular instructional
design strategies that led to student success. They
hypothesized this would hold true for master level
students. The results show students in both delivery
formats pointed to the importance of student-to-student and
student-to-faculty interaction, clarity of organization,
and timeliness of feedback as important contributors to
student satisfaction. The authors call for a longitudinal
study to ensure that online programs meet the needs of
students and match the quality of face-to-face programs.
Roach, V., Lemasters, L.,(2006). Satisfaction with Online
Learning: A Comparative Descriptive Study. Journal of
Interactive Online Learning, Vol 5 (3). 317-332.

     Validating an Approach to Examining Cognitive
Engagement Within Online Groups, by Oriogun, Ravenscroft,
and Cook, examines ways to measure the level of cognitive
engagement in online group interaction rather than an
individual’s level. Using collaborative learning
strategies, the authors used the Suggestion, Question,
Unclassified, Answer, Delivery (SQUAD) approach to
ascertain the levels of engagement within an online project
discussion and project completion. Using the Transcript
Analysis Tool (TAT) categories combined with Garrison,
Anderson, and Archer’s use of “trigger, exploration,
integration, and resolution” the authors identified
elements of cognitive engagement and in applying them to
three case studies found validity. Their conclusion is that
it is possible to validate cognitive engagement within an
online group discussion using this approach.
Oriogun, P., Ravenscroft, A., Cook, J., (2005) Validating
an Approach to Examining Cognitive Engagement Within Online
Groups. The American Journal of Distance Education, Vol 19
(4), 197-214.

What Leads to Student Success?                   March 23, 2007
     The article, A Content Analysis of Critical Thinking
Skills as an Indicator of Quality of Online Discussion in
Virtual Learning Communities, examines online discussions
to determine what critical thinking skills are used that
relate to the quality of the discussion format and whether
the quality is determined by the size of the group in the
discussion area.
The authors embrace the theory that “deep learning is
promoted by active engagement and that cognitive skills are
developed in a social context” Lipman (1991), Resnick,
Levine, & Teasley (1991) and Tu & Corry (2002). They
concluded that the students in the smaller virtual learning
communities were successful in integrating the components
within the critical thinking model into their discussion
and the size of the group was not a factor. The implication
is that students in an online course do not need to
interact with all the members of the class in discussion
(read and reply to posts) to get the maximum benefits of
Wickersham, L.E., Dooley, K.E., (2006) A Content Analysis
of Critical Thinking Skills as an Indicator of Quality of
Online Discussion in Virtual Learning Communities. The
Quarterly Review of Distance Education, Vol 7 (2), 185-193.

     Lim, Morris, and Yoon, report in the Combined Effect
of Instructional and Learner Variables on Course Outcomes
within An Online Learning Environment that learner
motivation and involvement have a positive effect on course
outcomes. They wished to discover whether differences in
learner satisfaction and learning outcomes was related to
various learning characteristics and study habits. The
variables studied were learner characteristics, learner
support, learning motivation, involvement and study skills.
Student ages from 20-29 performed the best and were most
satisfied in the online environment. A student preference
for the online delivery format was influential in the
degree of motivation, learning outcomes, and instructional
quality they perceived. Student’s style of browsing
affected their level of attaining quality instruction. This
should be addressed by proper instructional design of
course navigation. Study habits that reveal procrastination
tendencies limited the perceived quality and learning
outcomes for a student. The most significant variables
found were student involvement, student motivation, and
quality of instruction. The higher the student’s
motivation and involvement, the higher their satisfaction

What Leads to Student Success?                   March 23, 2007
with the course. This research suggests that the more
motivational strategies and organized content are
incorporated into the course design the better the student
outcomes and perceived satisfaction is with the course in
an online format.
Lim, D.H., Morris, M.L., Yoon, S.W., (2006). Combined
Effect of Instructional and Learner Variables on Course
Outcomes within an Online Learning Environment. Journal of
Interactive Online Learning, Vol 5 (3) 255-269.

     In the article, Leveraging LMSs to Enhance Campus-
Based Student Engagement, published in the Educause
Quarterly, Hamish Coates takes a look at how a learning
management system (LMS) can influence a student’s sense of
engagement no matter the delivery method. With the estimate
that ¾ of all institutions internationally, are now using a
learning management system to deliver course content, both
in the F2F and distance learning classroom, it becomes
imperative to monitor the instructional design affects
these systems may have. “LMSs have the capacity to
influence how students engage with their study and to
change collaboration, communication, and access to learning
     An Australian project used the Student Engagement
Questionnaire (SEQ) to ascertain student’s perception of
their learning experience. Results show that student’s
perceive a higher level of academic engagement in the
online world but lower levels of social engagement. They
appear to be citizens of both worlds and their travel
between both environments is transparent. The author
suggests the educational value of the LMS Is underused by
learning institutions and its power to change how
instruction is shaped is not fully understood.
Coates, H. (2005). Leveraging LMSs to Enhance Campus-Based
Student Engagement. Educause Quarterly, Vol 28 (1) 1-6.

     The paper, Identifying Factors that Predict Student
Engagement in Web-based Coursework, seeks to identify
predictors of student engagement by studying a small
student population enrolled in a Master’s level web-based
research course. A self-test was given at the beginning of
the course to give students an awareness of online learning
characteristics and direct them to various learning styles
for the purpose of matching up individual strengths and
weaknesses for the online delivery format. The results of
this self test were compared to four measures of student
engagement in the course. The authors found that time-

What Leads to Student Success?                   March 23, 2007
management skills were the best predictors of student
engagement in the course and suggest screening instruments,
course orientation, and training in study skills be made
available prior to student’s enrollment in an online
     Two surprising results from this study are a student
preference for face-to-face interaction versus web
interaction and the student’s predominant learning style
were not a predictors of student success.
     The authors acknowledge this small sample group is not
enough to create a profile analysis and call for further
Dereshiwsky, M.I., Moan, E.R. (2002). Identifying Factors
that Predict Student Engagement in Web-based Coursework.
USDLA Journal, Vol 16 (1) 1-9.

     An area of student engagement that appears to underlie
success in the classroom is the social aspect. Rupert
Wegerif, in The Social Dimension of Asynchronous Learning
Networks, makes a case for constructing a sense of
community in the online environment. He found individual
student success or failure was greatly influenced by the
student’s perception of his acceptance in the learning
community. Using collaborative techniques can contribute
positively to a student’s sense of belonging. Proper course
design, the use of moderators in group work or discussion,
and the amount of interaction within a group setting are
all techniques that can increase student engagement by
supporting a social connection.
Wegerif, R. (1998). The Social Dimension of Asynchronous
Learning Networks. Journal of Asynchronous Learning
Networks, Vol 2 (1) 34-49.

     This brief review of the literature on student
engagement seems to indicate that many of the same
predictors of success in the face-to-face classroom are
repeated in an online environment. The importance of
interaction between the student and instructor, student to
student, and student with the content is equally relevant
and independent of the delivery method. Collaborative
methods of instruction enhance a sense of social
interaction and connect the student to a learning
community. Critical thinking activities increase a
student’s sense of engagement with course content. Although

What Leads to Student Success?                   March 23, 2007
the online environment may pose challenges for instructors
to replicate their methods of interaction, collaboration,
and critical thinking activities, it is not insurmountable.
The need for content organization, pre-enrollment
orientation or self tests, and online student support, are
variables that show promise of leveling the differences but
are also areas that need more research. To continue on the
road of increased student retention, aspects of student
engagement deserve consideration.


What Leads to Student Success?                   March 23, 2007