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Helping Online Students Be Successful: Parental Engagement
Published on September 28, 2017

Modified on September 28, 2017


Cover of Helping Students Be Successful: Parental EngagementAlthough policies aimed at increasing graduation rates in the United States can be divisive and politically charged, it is almost universally agreed upon that parental engagement will be a critical element in the solution. Unfortunately, the failure rates in online courses are higher than those found in traditional courses. While any solution will be complex, it is likely that parents will play a critical role, just as they have in face-to-face contexts. For that to happen, we must first work to understand better the types of parental engagement that are valued by successful online teachers and on-site mentors, as well as how they work to overcome the obstacles that parents encounter when attempting to fulfill their responsibilities. In this research, we addressed this need by interviewing 12 successful on-site mentors and 12 online teachers. Through our analysis of interview transcripts, we found that teachers and mentors largely agreed about the types of parental engagement that they believed would improve student learning and the obstacles that parents face when attempting to fulfill those responsibilities. We also found that parents were under-engaged in their students’ learning due to several misconceptions and obstacles. Following this research and research conducted in face-to-face environments, we provide recommendations for increasing parental engagement.

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Written By
  • Jered Borup, George Mason University
  • Chawanna B. Chambers, George Mason University
  • Rebecca Stimson, Michigan Virtual Learning Research Institute
What we already know about this topic:
  • A large amount of research has shown a positive relationship between parental engagement and learning outcomes.
  • Little research has worked to identify parent responsibilities, and the research that does exist tends to focus on full-time programs.
What this report adds:
  • Our analysis of the interview transcripts found that both teachers and mentors believed that students would most likely succeed in online courses when parents:
    • advised students on their course enrollments,
    • monitored student performance and progress,
    • motivated students to more fully engage in learning activities,
    • organized and managed student learning at home, and
    • assisted students as they worked on assignments.
  • Online teachers and on-site mentors also found that parents tended to be under-engaged in fulfilling their important responsibilities due to several misconceptions and obstacles including:
    • lack of awareness that their student was enrolled in an online course,
    • perception that online courses were not “real,”
    • perception that online courses are easier than face-to-face courses,
    • misunderstanding the roles of the online teacher and the on-site mentor,
    • not knowing where and how to check students’ grades, and
    • online teachers’ inability to contact parents.
Implications for practice and/or policy

Following this research and research conducted in face-to-face environments, we believe that online programs would likely see an increase in parental engagement if they

  • involved parents in the online course enrollment decision,
  • educated parents regarding the challenges of learning online and ways that parents can support their students,
  • maintained regular contact with parents by sending them specific invitations to be involved, and
  • assisted parents in their monitoring activities by regularly emailing them progress reports and providing them with an online parent portal with displays that allow them to easily track student engagement and performance.

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