November 28, 2022

Catalyst Awards Blog Series: Targeted Course Changes Cut DFW Rate in Half

The Catalyst Awards program recognizes innovation and excellence in our global community of practice. In this blog series, a selection of 2022 award-winning institutions from across the globe share their success stories and best practices.

This post was guest authored by Mary Henson, instructional designer at Eastern Kentucky University.

Eastern Kentucky University is a 2022 Catalyst Award winner in the “Teaching & Learning” category.

Losing students in core classes

What can a university do when students are struggling to complete core classes? Eastern Kentucky University Online faced this issue with the social statistics requirement in nursing and social work. Instructor Dr. Stephanie McSpirit explains, “As a researcher and professor, it’s a subject I love to share with students. But sometimes, some students don’t always love data analysis and statistics the same way I do. And some of them truly struggle with the subject.” In fact, the Drop/Fail/Withdrawal (DFW) rate was almost double the university average at nearly 20 percent, and sometimes 25 percent. 

Eastern Kentucky University is a regional, coeducational, public institution of higher education offering general and liberal arts programs, pre-professional and professional training in education, and various other fields at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Located in Richmond, Madison County, Kentucky, Eastern has a distinguished record of more than a century of educational service to the Commonwealth.

Consistently recognized as having some of the nation’s best online degree programs, EKU strives to make quality education accessible to everyone. EKU has offered online degree programs since 2006. Today, more than 50 online options are available in a variety of fields. 

The social statistics course had well-developed instructional materials, peer tutors, and videos. Dr. McSpirit was attentive and responsive, but 1 in 5 students were not able to succeed. The analytic and research content, critical for future nurses and social workers, could not be compromised in any way. An entire course redevelopment was needed.

Dr. McSpirit collaborated with the Instructional Design Center to identify and target key issues using student evaluations, feedback, and related course information.

Targeting issues through intentional course design

The team made several major changes to the course to address performance issues of low-performing students:

  1. Mini-lectures were developed to focus attention. These conceptual videos described fundamental concepts in statistics, data analysis, and the scientific method.
  2. Open-source statistical software, Jamovi, was employed to save students money while still offering powerful computation and analytics.
  3. The course material emphasized real data and real research experience. The class used the full General Social Survey as their data source and made use of the interactive GSSExplorer website, which allows students to easily search for variables based on their topics of interest.
  4. Discussion boards became research blogs to increase interest and engagement. Students posted and discussed their own analysis of real-world issues and survey questions from the General Social Survey.
  5. The instructor provided scientific writing tips and templates to encourage writing for understanding. These written guides and templates supported students in data analysis, interpretation, and scientific report writing.
  6. The course allowed two attempts on quizzes to promote study and understanding.
  7. Students completed a weekly time management self-assessment to keep them on track with managing their time and course responsibilities.

Using Blackboard Learn tools

Blackboard® Learn functions and tools are fundamental to this course experience promoting student engagement, communication, and organization. Through the discussion board, students respond to a weekly instructor blog and analyze statistical data in the discussion. The Blackboard Learn survey tool hosts the weekly Time Management Survey. Students are required to reflect on their performance and set an intention for the next week of the course. In this 100% online class, connecting with the instructor is critical. The Question Board in the Discussion Board for each module provides a place for students to pose content and procedural questions.

The results

With targeted course changes, the DFW rate was nearly cut in half after the redevelopment. The DFW rate from 2016 to 2020 averaged around 20 percent (19%), while the DFW rate for summer 2021 was cut in half (10%).

What about students who weren’t at risk? According to student course evaluations and comments, all students reported an improvement in their Blackboard Learn learning experience in SOC 232.  

Learning from the experience

The redesign of this social statistics course has implications for any online instructor hoping to improve student engagement and outcomes.

  1. Identify the issues for students using student feedback and data. Time management, problems with technology, and math anxiety were known issues.
  2. Collaborate. Include the instructional design center and colleagues at your university.
  3. Focus the instruction. Short videos specifically addressed key ideas applicable to the content each week. Check the alignment of objectives to materials and assessments.
  4. Connect to professional standards and real-world data.
  5. Use survey tools to help students reflect on their own work and set intentions for continued work. This self-efficacy empowers students to make plans and take action.
  6. Employ a growth model. Encourage practice and study. Provide scaffolding for quality through examples and feedback.

Dr. McSpirit concludes, “While I certainly love research, data analysis, and statistics, as a university professor, I also love teaching university students (!) and these changes and improvements in student learning outcomes have made me one happy professor!”

Watch the Eastern Kentucky University Catalyst Awards nomination video.

For more information on the program, visit Catalyst Awards. Learn more about our 2022 Catalyst Award winners and their stories.