Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Use Google Sites to Increase Online Success and Retention

As an online instructor, I always felt that one of my goals should be to strive to ensure all the students enrolled on day one are students who are informed about the class requirements.  When we teach in a classroom, there are always students who attend day one, read the syllabus, and then decide, for a range of reasons, the class simply doesn't work for them.  These reasons could range from, "I'll take this next semester when I have a lighter load," "just too much work,"  "I'll take it with someone else," "don't like this instructor," "sounds like a bore."  How do I know?  Because I used to do it as a college student too (come on, fess up). While budget cuts may naturally be forcing students to stay enrolled in classes they don't "prefer," I believe all students should be informed ahead of time about what to expect in their learning experience.  This strategy is an effective and realistic way to foster a culture of student success in a class and, even more powerfully, at an entire institution.

Improving retention and success in "offline" classes is important too.  But I am focusing on the online learning environment because our online classes in higher education have consistently trailed in success and retention rates.  And the demand for online classes continues to go through the roof.  I would regularly turn away up to 40 pleading students in each online class, unable to accommodate their desire to enroll.  And then in the first week of class, a flock of students would drop, leaving me feel frustrated and disappointed about all the students I turned away.  Sound familiar anyone?

Offline?  The situation wasn't nearly so bad.  Sloan-C recently cited tracked our nation's overall higher ed enrollment growth was at around 2% (including offline and online enrollments in both 2 and 4 year institutions) and our online enrollment growth was about 17% (22% in community colleges alone). Our students are naturally leaving the offline classroom in search of more online learning opportunities.  So, let's prepare them ahead of time so the learning can begin on day one. 

Here's a simple strategy to try.  Create a Google Site, using one of their new and improved templates, and use it to share a video introduction, detail course requirements and clear expectations, and upload a class syllabus. The key is to weave the site into your enrollment process so students find it.  How about creating a link in your online class schedule, connecting your class description to your Google Site?

So, students...would this help you succeed?  Instructors, what are your thoughts?  Here is my sample Google Site (which was used in this way, only in an older and less aesthetically pleasing Google Site template) to demonstrate the idea.

Note: I am no longer employed at Sierra College and I use the materials on my sample Google Site in an effort to share my own course strategies to help other online instructors improve their instructional approaches.


AJ Tivol said...

This is a great idea. Because it's a Google site, I would expect it to show pretty high up in the search results when students Google the teacher's name. I would much prefer to hear what the teacher has to say about the class than trying to make a decision based on comments on a professor rating site because that's the only place I can find information.

Unknown said...

Hi Anna,

Nice to hear from you! You make a great point about the difference between hearing from an instructor about a class and reading the thoughts of other students. Personally, I see some benefit to both (minus the chili peppers) but what I love about your perspective is that it really capsizes many professors' views of RateMyProfessor.

I've read and heard many professors say they don't like the site, as the comments aren't credible, they are too subjective, etc. So, then, why NOT create a Google Site? If you don't like something, create a better alternative!

Thanks for the comment. Take care!

Anonymous said...

Great use of Google Sites. I think we'll gladly add this to our list of practical examples of people using the sites in the real world.

Oh, and thanks for choosing one of our templates for the basis of your site BTW. You've done a really nice job with it!

Unknown said...

Thanks for your comment, Michael. Yes, by all means, please do share the site. And, if I still have your ear, please pass on a request to Google for more professional development programs for higher ed. We too have innovators who are eager to become Google Certified Instructors and share effective uses of Google tools for college students.

Lori Fuller Rusch said...

Michelle, how did your prospective students know how to find you and your Google Site? Not from the two sentence catalog/schedule entry I am sure!

My oldest just graduated from SDSU and choose her profs by the RateMyProfessor. She learned to filter the disgruntled and read between the lines. Not a perfect system, but all she had. You'd have to ask her about the accuracy of the chili peppers!

Unknown said...

Hi Laurie,

Yes, actually, my Google Site was linked into the ONLINE schedule of classes. My institution had stopped printing paper schedules and once we went to the online format, there wasn't so much pressure to keep things brief. I did have to make a special request to have it included but it was honored.

LOTS of students use ratemyprofessor.com undoubtedly. If I were a student today, I would too. The information is certainly better than enrolling without any information at all, which, again, is why I encourage faculty to share their information directly with students. As Anna noted, it gives them an alternative to using ratemyprofessor.com (although, I'd imagine they'd probably do both!).

And, by the way, I think you said you tried sending me an email about your interview with a well known art historian. I never got that email. Can you resend to brocansky@gmail.com?