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Examining The Online

Inside Higher Ed’s Paul Fain reported this week that researchers have established a database that holds 3 million course-level records tracking the online coursework of 640,000 students across 33 variables.

The data-mining project, being undertaken by the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, was funded by a $1 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The participating institutions are the American Public University System, the Community College System of Colorado, Rio Salado College, the University of Hawaii System, the University of Illinois-Springfield and the University of Phoenix.

The research has unearthed some interesting findings. For example, they found that students are most likely to drop out of an online college if they take full courseloads rather than attending part time.

Some institutions are already using the data to implement early-warning systems for students. According to Fain, on January 9 Rio Salado College began measuring student engagement through Web interactions (including responding to educator feedback), how often they look at their textbooks and, of course, their coursework performance.

The data has further implications and uses. It can give institutions extremely detailed information about student subsets and could give students insight into which online institution would be best for them.