online learning, writing a thesis when studying online, engagement, retention, support.
Most third-level institutes now offer online education (Bowers & Kumar, 2015). Allen et al. (2016) report that in excess of 28% of all American higher education students are enrolled on at least one online course. Online education offers flexibility, convenience, and benefits that particularly suit the adult learner wishing to study part-time while continuing to work and deal with other commitments.
This flexibility and convenience has a drawback. Non-completion rates in online education are typically higher than in on-campus education (Bawa, 2016) (Bowers & Kumar, 2015) (Lee & Choi, 2013). However, research has shown that online students can and have outperformed their traditional student counterpart in certain cases (Dixson, 2010) (Maki & Maki, 2007 in Dixson, 2010) (Stack, 2015). However, Maki & Maki (in Dixson, 2010) contend that in order for this to happen, a strong instructor presence is required along with strong instructor-student communications.
Launched in 2004, the online Masters in Software Information Systems (a joint collaboration between the National University of Ireland, Galway and Regis University, Colorado) has seen strong enrolment and retention figures. Analysis of student feedback has shown that one crux-point for student dis-engagement is the strain a student encounters when completing their Masterís thesis (O' Dea & Brennan, 2017). In particular, feedback shows that students struggle when transitioning from facilitated online modules to self-starting their thesis literature (O' Dea & Brennan, 2017).
In this paper, the authors present data on thesis students from 2012 to 2017. This data shows the percentage of students starting thesis-research each year and successfully delivering a thesis. There has been a significant upward trend.
The authors present the results of a thesis-perception survey of greater than 100 students. The survey aims to determine the value of various supports which were deemed necessary after previous thesis-perception feedback. The authors explain how these supports alleviated studentsí difficulties in transitioning to self-starting their thesis literature, ultimately resulting in increased graduates.
In 2014-15, approximately 50% of those who began thesis research progressed to submit a thesis in that year. Supports in 2015-16 resulted in approximately a 10% increase. Stronger supports introduced in 2016-17 brought the percentage of those graduating to 88%.
Anecdotal comments from both the students and facilitators of the programme are used to substantiate contentions.