The Student Commons
Over the past decade, distance learning has grown (in popularity) and developed at such a fast rate that getting your degree online is now accepted as a popular alternative to traditional face-to-face education (Connolly, MacArthur, Stansfield, & McLellan, 2007). Students’ lives have become increasingly complicated and busy, which makes distance learning’s flexible nature not only attractive but often one of the primary considerations as a student searches for a college degree. As online education continues to grow, however, so too does the rate at which students drop out or fail to complete their degree. Student retention for distance learning programs is lower than campus based programs, and while institutions are excited about the opportunities distance learning provides, they struggle to reduce the high attrition rates. To address the low retention rates, some educators suggest an abandonment of online education; others consider steps that would improve success for online students. Using Moreland & Carnwell’s three types of learning support for distance learners as a theoretical framework, I began to create an online Student Commons. The community was designed to provide students with each of the three types of support: academic, emotional and practical. After an initial survey of academic advisors, a concept of the Student Commons was born. Utilizing ANGEL (Bryant & Stratton’s Virtual Classroom program), the Student Commons was further developed. A focus group of academic advisors were then given permission to view and interact in the group for assessment and recommendations. Presently the Student Commons group is complete and in the process of having additional information added to complete its functionality. The group is expected to “go live” for all Bryant & Stratton online students in September 2011.