Postsecondary Students' Perceptions of Engagement in Online Developmental Classes



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The number of students who must complete developmental coursework before enrolling in college-level classes is increasing. There are numerous reasons for this increase, including the inability of many public schools to prepare students for higher education. There are also growing numbers of students enrolling in online courses. Responding to the increasing numbers of developmental students along with a rising demand for online education, some colleges and universities are now offering online developmental classes. There is a critical need to research the support of students in these courses. Examining, activating, and enhancing the engagement of these students may be the best means of promoting their success. Investigating student perceptions of engagement is a critical component of this research. For students at every level, in a wide variety of educational environments, studies have shown that student engagement promotes learning. Students who are academically engaged demonstrate a high degree of involvement in their own learning. Engaged students are characterized by positive attitudes toward learning. This study investigated the perceptions of students enrolled in online developmental math classes and English classes at the research site, a large two-year college in the Southwest. A survey consisting of 10 items that describe instructional practices and student behaviors associated with engagement was designed for the study.
The 10 survey items queried students for the number of times the instructional strategy or student behavior occurred during the semester (how often) and how much, if at all, the practice or behavior affected the student’s engagement (how much). Allowing students to share their perceptions on engagement gives the students a very real voice in the teaching-learning process. With their survey responses, students were given the ability to tell educators what engages them, rather than having educators, authors, researchers, and others generate multiple “second source” hypotheses on student engagement. Effects on engagement were also examined based on gender, age, and ethnicity. In addition, effects on engagement were examined by discipline: math or English. Data was analyzed through the use of frequencies, multiple linear regressions, correlations, t-tests, and ANOVAs. The survey responses suggest that students feel that some of their own classroom behaviors have an effect on engagement. Their responses indicate, as well, that what instructors do in the classroom has a significant effect on student perceptions of engagement. Analysis of the survey data suggests there are both instructional strategies and student behaviors that predict student engagement. Statistical tests identified instructional strategies and student behaviors that predict engagement. Results indicated that there were gender-related differences in perceived effects on engagement. Finally, analysis based on each discipline, math or English, indicated that students’ perceptions of engagement are affected by the classes in which they are enrolled.



Developmental education, Online education, Online learning, Student engagement