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Western Kentucky University

Distance Learning: Online Learning Research Office

Research Ideas

The DELO Online Learning Research Office (OLRO) was created to support faculty research and scholarship in the areas of online learning and education. Our office has the methodological and technical expertise and financial and programmatic resources to help faculty members formulate research questions, develop a research design, collect and analyze data, and report results.

The following examples reflect the types of research projects the OLRO hopes to stimulate and support at WKU. Faculty members may wish to pursue a variant of one of these examples, or they may develop research projects that are directly applicable to their academic units or specific course offerings.

If you are a faculty member at WKU who wishes to conduct a piece of research on online learning and education, please contact our office. We welcome the opportunity to provide the services and resources you need.

Measuring Learning Outcomes in Online Courses

Each academic year, hundreds of unique online courses are offered at WKU with thousands of enrolled students. Online learning and education are significant parts of academic life at WKU and for our students. Faculty may wish to measure progress toward learning outcomes among students enrolled in their online courses. This could be done through the creation of a social survey administered to students, with questions and response categories tailored to each instructor and course.

The OLRO could provide assistance with the construction of the survey instrument, collection of the data, quantitative analyses, and the reporting of the results. If a faculty member teaches the same course online and in a classroom setting, a comparative study could examine how student learning outcomes vary or converge in these two delivery modes using a social survey methodology.

Evaluating New Technologies in Online Courses

New technologies enter the online learning marketplace every year. While WKU supports a core group of technologies for online learning, such as Blackboard, Tegrity, and Adobe Connect Pro, DELO continually scans the marketplace for emerging trends and new technologies that can improve the online experience for our students and faculty.

If you are interested in experimenting with a new piece of technology in your online courses, please contact us for help acquiring the technology and for developing an evaluation study measuring its effectiveness. It may be possible to develop a research project where one section of an existing online course is used as a control group and a second section is used as the experimental group, where the new technology is implemented and tested. Such a methodology would allow for the collection of data that measures the impact of this new technology relative to your existing online course.

Student Retention and Completion

Our university President and Provost have made student retention and degree completion significant priorities for our institution. Online courses and online degree programs offer students a higher degree of flexibility compared to traditional classroom instruction. Research is needed to assess the impact online courses and online degree programs have on student retention and degree completion. Faculty could use data from WKU’s Office of Institutional Research or data within academic units to examine the impact online courses have on improving student retention and time to degree completion.

A research project might study differences in graduation rates and dropout rates between students who enroll in classroom courses, online courses, or hybrid approaches (online and classroom). A similar project might examine a sample of students who left WKU for a period of time and then returned to the university to complete their degrees. The project could then assess whether online courses or online degree programs improved degree completion relative to students enrolled in classroom-based courses.

Comparing Student Outcomes in Online, Hybrid and Traditional Degree Programs

Several departments at WKU offer the same undergraduate or graduate level degree programs exclusively online or in a classroom environment. Additionally, some programs offer hybrid programs that combine online and classroom courses within one degree program.

Research projects might compare a variety of outcomes within these online, classroom, and hybrid programs, including (a) faculty-student interaction, (b) student collaboration, (c) the use and/or impact of technology, (d) enrollment trends, (e) success in degree completion, (f) retention, (g) faculty workload and satisfaction, and (h) student and faculty evaluations. Comparisons could be made using existing data from WKU’s Office of Institutional Research, data/information within specific academic units, or by collecting new data using social surveys and/or formal evaluation projects.

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 Last Modified 9/25/14