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IES Grant

Title: Online Instructor Professional Development and Student Outcomes in Community Colleges
Center: NCER Year: 2021
Principal Investigator: Hart, Cassandra M. Awardee: University of California, Davis
Program: Postsecondary and Adult Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (07/01/2021 – 06/30/2025) Award Amount: $1,698,340
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305A210455

Co-Principal Investigators: Aminy, Marina; Xu, Di; Baker, Rachel

Purpose:  In this project, the researchers will explore possible connections among faculty participation in professional development (PD) that targets online instruction, improved delivery of online instruction, and improved community college student outcomes. As more postsecondary instruction moves online or incorporates online elements, faculty need to learn how to deliver content and support students in new ways. This has led many institutions and faculty to seek out professional development (PD). However, it is unclear what type of PD leads to what types of instructional changes or improved student outcomes. This exploration project will also consider whether changes in particular online instructional practices correlate with student outcomes and whether particular PD content (such as improving online course content delivery or using assessments) correlate with changes in student outcomes. The results of this work will inform the future development of improved PD for postsecondary faculty to help ensure student success in online courses in broad-access institutions.

Project Activities: The researchers will conduct two studies: one that focuses on professional development activities at two specific community colleges (a "partner-site" study) and one that focuses on professional development activities offered by the California Community Colleges Chancellor's Office for faculty across the entire California community college system (a "statewide" study). The researchers will join information about the faculty and their professional development activities to student behaviors in online courses to explore connections and how they predict student outcomes.

Products: The researchers will produce academic articles, and products such as policy briefs and practitioner toolkits targeting audiences both within the California community college (CCC) system and nationwide.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The research will take place in two community colleges in California (in both southern and central California) and will leverage statewide data from community colleges across California.

Population/Sample:  For the study that focuses on two specific community colleges, the main sample will include data from approximately 30,000 students matched to the classes of an estimated 625 faculty who completed comprehensive PD courses on online pedagogy. The research team  will also use a subsample of approximately 50 faculty and an estimated 2500 matched students across these institutions for a deeper dive into outcomes. For the statewide study, researchers  anticipate using data from roughly 10,000 students matched to 200 faculty who participated in comprehensive PD courses through the California Virtual Campus-Online Education Initiative (CVC-OEI), available to CCC educators statewide.

Factors: The primary factors researchers will study include participation in professional development (PD), the content of the PD, and the format and length of the PD. Some faculty may participate in the longer, comprehensive PD provided through CVC-OEI, whereas others may participate in shorter, multi-week courses that focus on particular content areas (such as course content presentation, accessibility, assessments, etc.). PD courses can also vary in whether they are synchronous or asynchronous and whether they are instructor-led or self-led. However, central to all of these PD courses is helping faculty and students to thrive in online teaching environments.

Research Design and Methods: The researchers will explore instructional practice using a mixed-methods approach in both the study of two specific colleges and the statewide study. For the partner-site study, they will leverage data on training histories of faculty who go through each campus's comprehensive PD program, joined to administrative data on student outcomes and clickstream data that captures student actions in the course learning management system. They will also work with a subsample of 50 faculty from each college, to look more deeply into the "course shell" data from the LMS. These data will allow the researchers to explore the  instructional materials that they post and obtain measures of instructional practices, such as whether faculty scaffold learning by providing clear guidance on how to engage with course materials, or whether faculty promote interaction by offering  opportunities for collaborative learning with classmates. In the systemwide study, they will examine two types of PD offered through the CVC-OEI: a 12-week comprehensive PD program and shorter, skill-targeted PD courses. They will use data on training histories of faculty who go through the CVC-OEI's PD program, joined to administrative data on student outcomes to measure how participation in PD is associated with changes in student outcomes. They will compare differences between the faculty who participated in the comprehensive program versus those who participated in skill-targeted courses in one of four domains—content presentation, online course interactions, online assessments, and accessibility in online courses.

Key Measures: Key measures include administrative data including course performance, measures of progression such as persistence in the same subject, transfer, and degree attainment.

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers will use multiple analytic strategies, including difference—in-differences analyses with fixed-effects and multilevel modeling.