Georgia Journal of Science

Article Title



This is a report on insights gained from teaching Introductory Astronomy Online asynchronously for non-science majors at a non-residential 2 year college with a diverse, metro-urban, non-traditional student population. These students are a good representation of the general population in experiencing complex and challenging life situations (family, work, technology access, finances) while furthering their own education. Historically, online classes have much lower retention rates than face-to-face classes. Online students' success depends on many factors, such as the individual (preparedness, motivation, life circumstances), ability to interact with the teacher and classmates (email, discussion comments, assessment feedback), and quality of course content and structure (Learning Management System, course layout, type and format of learning objects). This is especially challenging for non-science majors in more quantitatively and technologically challenging courses like Online Introductory Astronomy Laboratories. Students face their STEM-phobia while isolated in space and time by technology. An examination of Common Course Assessment results in 2012 showed that online students who passed the course with grades of ABC had reached the same level of mastery as their face-to-face counterparts – pointing to the need to increase retention. Forming virtual study groups proved to be unfeasible due to online students' drastically divergent life schedules as shown by a voluntary student availability survey. In 2016, a college wide early performance alert initiative provided another potential retention booster. Instructors contacted students about developing a plan for success a few weeks into the semester if they had not met certain criteria for a passing at that time. The effect of these early alerts on student retention and performance was measured with ABC/DWF percentages compared to their face-to-face equivalents before and after the intervention. Tentative results show that early alerts involving students' class performance increase the retention of subsequently successful students in the online Intro Astronomy Lab sections.

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