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NCSEHE Impact Report: Improving student outcomes in online learning

Tracing the impact of Opportunity Through Online Learning by Dr Cathy Stone (2017)

This is the second in a series of impact reports, expanding on the wide-reaching outcomes and impact from NCSEHE-funded research.

The report details the “snowball effect” of Equity Fellowship research by Dr Cathy Stone, which has been applied nationally and internationally since its release in 2017. Dr Stone’s recommendations have become an essential resource in 2020, during the shift to online learning as a result of COVID-19.

Dr Kitty Drok for the NCSEHE

Funded under the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program (HEPPP), the NCSEHE operates competitive research grant programs to build upon the research expertise in higher education student equity issues that exists across Australia. The Centre also hosts an Equity Fellows Program, supporting Fellows to undertake strategic, high-impact projects targeted at improving higher education access, participation and success for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In 2016, the NCSEHE supported three Equity Fellowships with funding from the Australian Government Department of Education and Training (DET), now the DESE. Research for one of these Fellowships was conducted by Dr Cathy Stone at the University of Newcastle, Australia to inform the development of national guidelines to improve student outcomes in online learning. This is a growing modality with a critical place in widening access and participation in education for a diverse range of students, many of whom are from backgrounds which have been historically underrepresented at university.

This report documents and demonstrates the “snowball effect” and progressive impact over time of this NCSEHE-funded Equity Fellowship project to the present.

In the three years since the study was completed, there has been significant movement to address the growing equity issues in online higher education. Here we map the developments that have occurred around improving online student outcomes, since the findings from the original project were published in its final report, Opportunity Through Online Learning; Improving student access, participation and success in higher education (2017a) which included the associated National Guidelines for Improving Student Outcomes in Online Learning (2017b), published separately as well.

These evidence-based considerations of equity and student engagement and success in online learning have been steadily informing tertiary educational practice in Australia and New Zealand since 2017. Three years on, the impact of this project is now being more broadly realised. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, traditional face-to-face modes of education have been severely restricted and educational institutions across the world have rapidly shifted to online delivery. With so many more students now experiencing the equity issues associated with online education, educators worldwide are looking for approaches to improve student outcomes in online learning.

Cathy Stone impact report cover: Opportunity through online learning

Report written by Dr Kitty Drok on behalf of the NCSEHE

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Posted 9 November 2020 Posted in General, NCSEHE Equity Fellows