Because of the independent nature of online courses, students in the online learning environment often experience a sense of isolation. This sense can be even more pronounced for students from historically disadvantaged groups. Wake Tech's award-winning First in the World grant project, COMPASS (Constructing an Online Model to Promote At-Risk Student Success), was designed to increase retention and success rates of students in online courses by leveraging technology and intentional outreach strategies to improve academic outcomes. The four-year research study showed promising results, particularly for students of color.
The U.S. Department of Education awarded First in the World grants to support innovation in the promotion of evidence-based solutions to pervasive issues for at-risk populations in higher education. Project COMPASS (U.S. Department of Education Grant #P116F150082) was particularly interested in improving outcomes for students of color, for whom baseline data showed lower retention and success rates in the three high-enrollment, low-success gateway courses at our open-enrollment institution.
The online courses included in the project – General Psychology, Introduction to Business and Introduction to Computers – were selected because they are high-enrollment courses with lower-than-average student success rates and large achievement gaps between demographic groups. As gateway courses, they often serve as gatekeepers to student success and academic progression. Unsatisfactory student performance can prolong or derail the acquisition of credentials and increase educational costs to students. Project COMPASS sought to address this.
To support unbiased and quality research results, Wake Tech collaborated with a third-party evaluation team at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The study was designed to meet What Works Clearinghouse standards without reservations.
The goal of Project COMPASS was to improve the success of high-need students in high-demand online courses through a redesign to increase teaching, social and cognitive presence. The project focused on two objectives: promoting active and engaged learning in online gateway courses through the integration of low-cost tools that promote online presence and systematically improving faculty instructional designs and strategies used in online courses.
Protocols were developed under the Community of Inquiry framework, seeking to improve three principle elements of the online educational experience: teaching presence, social presence and cognitive presence.
As a part of Wake Tech's innovative intervention, Project COMPASS instructors employed "high-tech" tools and "high-touch" course redesign strategies that enhance the student experience and increase teaching, social and cognitive presence in the online environment. Following are some technologies used in the project:
The "high-touch" student engagement elements included the following:
Key measures of the project included the following:
Wake Tech then scaled the Project COMPASS intervention to other courses and colleges and developed formal training modules for instructors who desire to adopt innovative student success and retention strategies.
The project team actively participated in opportunities to share best practices from the intervention at national conferences. Project COMPASS team members delivered nearly 40 presentations at national and local conferences and published nearly 20 conference proceedings and articles.
Other participating faculty: