Helping Online Students Be Successful: Parental Engagement

Published on September 28, 2017

Modified on December 11, 2020


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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Limited Course Capacity

We’re sorry to inform you that we have reached capacity for several of our Semester 1 and Trimester 1 courses. You’ll notice when attempting to enroll students in our Student Learning Portal that some courses are unavailable. While we are no longer accepting new enrollments for these courses at this time, many courses continue to remain open for enrollment.

With many students across the state 100% remote, demand for our online courses is greater than ever before. Because every course we offer is taught by a Michigan-certified teacher, this high volume of enrollments has created capacity issues for our teachers who provide each and every student with individual feedback.

While the Michigan Virtual team anticipated and planned for significant increases in student enrollments this Fall, the increased demand we’ve experienced has been unprecedented. As a result, we are taking steps to hire even more part-and full-time teachers to support larger numbers of student enrollments for Semester 2 as well as for Trimester 2 and 3. 

For schools that still need online learning options this year, please fill out the form at the bottom of our virtual pathways page to meet with someone to discuss other solutions. While some of our teacher-led courses are full, we may still have the capacity to help you in upcoming terms or can discuss timing to implement a whole-school or collaborative program in which local teachers from your school/district use our online course content to teach students. We also have free course content and resources available for you to use.

We know this is an incredibly stressful time for all, and we’re sorry if the courses you’re looking for are unavailable. We never want to turn away a student who wants to learn from us. Our top concern, however, is student success, and we have a policy to not take on additional enrollments if we cannot guarantee that all students will have a quality online learning experience. 

We appreciate your patience and understanding as we navigate the unusually high volume of enrollments we are receiving.