About this paper:
Appears in: INTED2017 Proceedings
Publication year: 2017
Pages: 3358-3367
ISBN: 978-84-617-8491-2
ISSN: 2340-1079
doi: 10.21125/inted.2017.0852
Conference name: 11th International Technology, Education and Development Conference
Dates: 6-8 March, 2017
Location: Valencia, Spain
With 17 million students enrolled on Coursera – one of the many providers of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) - online instruction is one of the fastest growth areas of the higher educational landscape (Toven-Lindsey, Rhoads, & Lozano, 2014). With its genesis in Open Educational Resources (Hew & Cheung, 2014), MOOCs provide increased availability and accessibility to courses. Free online content leads to large student-numbers. “We understand how to engineer websites that gracefully handle huge numbers of users; however, we’re still trying to learn how to handle the scalability issues for the teaching, learning, and assessment models.” (Kay et. al, 2013). With 50,000 students, Coursera’s first Software Engineering course achieved just a 7% success-rate (Clow, 2013). Data from 2015 shows that although numbers of registered-users on MOOCs range from 10,000 to over five million per course, completion rates are below 10% on average (Jordan, 2014) (Kolowich, 2013) (Parr, 2013). Today’s universities recognise the importance of the online market. They are and need to be continually vigilant in differentiating their programmes to attract students. Established in 2003, the online Masters in Software Engineering & Database Technologies (MSc.SED) (a joint collaboration between NUI Galway and Regis University, Colorado) has seen strong enrolment figures. With academic and instructional-design experts involved in the content-development, the goal of the online M.Sc.SED programme is to provide students with the professional skills, conceptual frameworks, methods, and technologies that are necessary as a basis for a career in the IT industry. The students gain hands-on experience of software development and database manipulation and that content is reviewed and validated by industry. This programme is by no means unique, but it is successful in terms of student-engagement and retention. In 2015, 77% of the online M.Sc.SED students graduated on schedule – in stark contrast with the 10% successfully-completing online studies on MOOCs. Students tend to remain engaged throughout their studies on the M.Sc.SED., sometimes returning after an absence to complete their Masters. Having a pedagogical framework underpinned by critical enquiry, collaborative learning, cognitive and social constructivism, this Masters programme is a flagship online programme for the Adult Education Department in NUI Galway. With a low student-to-facilitator ratio, instructional support provided by a mix of academic and industry facilitators, and modular delivery, the success of this online programme is evident in the year-on-year interest and the percentage of graduates successfully completing this level 9 degree.

In this paper, the authors will outline the factors which they contend have contributed to the success of this online programme. These factors range from sound instructional-design of curriculum grounded in real life contexts, synchronous and asynchronous interaction, the facilitator-student feedback process and the varied means by which collaborations, reflection and a peer community are encouraged and fostered among the student cohort. The authors will also outline both the crux-points for student dis-engagement and how that is corrected, in order to keep a student on the path to graduation.
Anecdotal comments from both the students and the facilitators of the programme will also be used to substantiate contentions.
Distance education, engagement, retention, feedback, online learning, synchronous and asynchronous interaction.