Virginia Tech's Office of Distance Learning and Summer Sessions recently concluded a five-year longitudinal data report, which shows students are embracing distance learning and eLearning is meeting with students' expectations.

The summative report charts student perceptions of eLearning, beginning with the spring 2005 semester and continuing through Summer Session I, 2009. The findings illustrate that, with significant satisfaction ratings, eLearning is meeting the expectations of students. Some of the findings over the last year revealed the following satisfaction measures:

  • Ninety percent of the students surveyed stated that after completing their eLearning course they were more confident that they could reach their academic goals;
  • Ninety percent of students stated overall satisfaction with their eLearning experience;
  • Eighty-seven percent of the students surveyed felt connected to the university; and
  • Eighty-seven percent of students indicated plans to take additional eLearning courses at Virginia Tech.

This and other data have been used to inform programs and services, and to help shape professional development opportunities available to online faculty. Overall, students report satisfactory levels of engagement with course materials and student support services as well as interaction with other students in eLearning courses.

Distance Learning and Summer Sessions’ recent longitudinal data investigation and report of key quality indicators in Virginia Tech distance learning is a valuable resource for administrators, instructional designers, student and faculty support personnel, and course developers,” says Sam Conn, director of the Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning, one of three units within the Distance Learning and Summer Sessions organization. “The report is an example of [the institute’s] continuing efforts to provide leadership, coordination, management and support to distance and distributed (eLearning) activities at the university.”

In terms of professional development of Virginia Tech faculty, the Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning has created new online certificate programs separately tailored for both faculty new to the online experience and for faculty who have previously taught online classes. Registration is currently open for the Spring 2010 Master Online Certificate Program.

Conclusions from the longitudinal study have also been used to revise the survey used to collect student perceptions. Revisions to the survey design are being made to improve response rates among students and will also provide stakeholders with timely information that can be fed into course design and delivery over the semester rather exclusively at the end of the semester.

This longitudinal study, and resulting report, was directed by Catherine Amelink, who recently joined the Distance Learning and Summer Sessions staff as research and assessment coordinator. Amelink brings to the position a wealth of experience, including serving as assessment coordinator for the Virginia Tech Division of Student Affairs and assistant director for strategic initiatives at the Virginia Tech Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.

“I am working with stakeholders as we revise the process and tools that are currently used by [the Institute for Distance and Distributed Learning] to collect student and faculty perceptions about their eLearning experience,” says Amelink. “The collected data will be used to inform various initiatives and used in an on-going effort to continually improve the quality of programs and services offered by the Office of Distance Learning and Summer Sessions. I’ll also be working on different projects that are examining the efficacy of online learning.”

For more information about Virginia Tech’s distance learning and summer sessions efforts, visit Distance Learning and Summer Sessions online or call (866) 791-4898.

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