Support, communication, and engagement key for student success in online education

Posted by Jennifer Hernandez on Sunday, Apr. 6 at 6:00 pm.

Thomas Failor is a 47-year-old, full-time, working man, husband and father, and is currently enrolled in the Applied Information Management masters program — despite living 250 miles north of campus. For the last two years the Tacoma, Wash. native has dedicated one to two hours (three if he’s lucky) every evening to completing University of Oregon’s only online masters program, one course at a time. For students like Failor, support, communication and engagement are key for student success, no matter what format a course is in.

Earlier this month the UO announced the launching of its first Massive Open Online Course through its American English Institutes and Linguistics department. The free open class is aimed to help foreign English language instructors build upon their skills. It will partner with educational technology company Coursera to offer the course. A 2013 Managing Online Education Survey, reported that 5 percent who “signed up for a Coursera MOOC earned a credential signifying official completion of the course.”

Though the AIM program does not keep track of its completion rate, according to program manager Sonya Faust, the program does a good job at working with its students, giving them individual attention and helping them complete the program — despite never being in the same room as their teacher. Available program statistics show that about 16-24 students complete the program every year in the average time it takes to complete a traditional masters program. About 20-25 students enter the program every year with a total of 40 students in the program.

“I was not a rockstar student in my undergrad days. I didn’t have a big fancy GPA, that’s for sure, but I had a lot of technology experience,” Failor said. “If I wanted to continue in a more technical role, (I would have to have gotten an) information systems type of education.”

Failor has worked in and around information technology for more than 20 years, after getting his undergraduate degree in history. Through the AIM program, Failor has learned the mechanics of digital technology and received insight through his instructors who are both UO faculty and current field professionals.

“So they’re very interactive. This is not a one-way flow of information,” Failor said. “It’s a pretty tight-knit community.”

According to Failor, there are a variety of ways to communicate in the course, and it’s up to the professor how they handle it. He has had an overall positive experience with the 21 courses he has taken – regardless of whether teachers have chosen to post lectures through YouTube or require more interactive weekly video chats.

Communication and organization of the department was apparent to Failor and it has provided a strong feedback system. He recalls an instance in which he was emailed by a professor and  invited to become a guest instructor after he suggested adding a component to a course through a course evaluation.

“Even though I haven’t seen the people that run this program face-to-face, I feel like I have a great relationship with them because we’ve been working on this program together for the last two and a half years,” Failor said.