Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Online Learning and Student Engagement: Assessing the Impact of a Collaborative Writing Requirement

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Online Learning and Student Engagement: Assessing the Impact of a Collaborative Writing Requirement

Article excerpt


The question of how college affects students has been a topic of considerable research within higher education over several decades (Astin, 1993b; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). Several studies link student outcomes of learning, persistence, engagement, and satisfaction (Carini, Kuh, & Klein, 2006; Kuh, Kinzie, Buckley, Bridges & Hayek, 2006; Tinto, 1993). Student engagement has been linked to measures of student success including student learning and student satisfaction (Kuh et al., 2006) and, thus, is often examined by universities when seeking to improve student outcomes. Based on a growing body of evidence, institutions of higher education are encouraged to incorporate "high impact educational practices" (Kuh, 2008) which have been shown to be positively associated with student retention and student engagement. One such high-impact educational practice is the use of collaborative assignments and projects.

Concurrent with the growing focus on student outcomes has been a growth in online learning opportunities. Whether entire programs or individual courses, the amount of offerings within the online environment is growing. In 2012, the number of students taking at least one online course was 7.1 million, or 33.5 percent of all higher education students, and represented a 6.1 percent rate of growth in one year and over 300 percent since 2003 (Allen & Seaman, 2014). While the conveniences of online learning for students may be readily evident, online learning also presents challenges in terms of engaging students. A recent evaluation of National Survey of Student Engagement results revealed that distance learners, as compared to their on-campus counterparts, were significantly less involved in active and collaborative learning, worked less frequently with other students on projects during class, and worked less frequently with classmates outside of class to prepare class assignments (Chen, Kuh, & Gonyea, 2008).

Because student engagement is one of the primary components of effective teaching and effective learning, determining what engages online students with their learning is of critical importance to student success. Updating the Seven Principles for Good Practice, Chickering and Ehrmann (1996) stress the importance of active learning strategies for online learners. Johnson and Aragon (2003) recommend several ways to structure online courses to promote active learning, including organizing online courses around projects and cooperative learning. And, recent efforts have resulted in new measures of student engagement within the online environment (Dixson, 2010).

This research project was developed in response to a university initiative to improve student engagement in the online environment. The purpose of the study was to determine whether a collaborative writing project in an online course would promote student engagement and other positive outcomes. Insights from previous studies on active learning were used to design the project, which was then implemented in two sections of an online Business Ethics course. The results suggest the collaborative project had a positive impact on student engagement while a negative impact on some aspects of student satisfaction, particularly satisfaction with faculty support. Based on these results, the author provides practical suggestions on how to promote the positive outcomes associated with collaborative online work while seeking to minimize possible negative consequences on student-faculty interaction.


Significant research has been conducted on how college affects students (Astin, 1993b; Pascarella & Terenzini, 1991; 2005). Several measures of student success have been used, including student learning, persistence, engagement, and satisfaction, to name a few (Kuh et al., 2006). Some of the earliest work on predictors of student success suggested such success is related to the combination of student characteristics with features of the institution of higher education. …

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