2017 – Online Credit Recovery at the Alberta Distance Learning Centre
Frank McCallum – Principal, Alberta Distance Learning Centre

One of the promises of distance education is that of credit recovery, a process whereby students can address skill gaps in courses for which they have not been successful. Through credit recovery they build on the skills they HAVE mastered in order to earn credit without redoing the course in its entirety. At the Alberta Distance Learning Centre (ADLC) we have begun to develop a slightly different take on this credit recovery process. Students who have identified programming gaps have found a way to keep their entire academic program on track, more a process of program recovery.

The Observation

During the 2016-17 school year, between September 1, 2016 and August 31, 2017, students at ADLC completed approximately 14, 230 courses. These were a mix of core courses (i.e., English, Math, Science, Social Studies), various elective courses (i.e., Social Sciences, Phys Ed, Career & Life Management) and smaller Career Technology Studies (i.e., Information Processing, Financial Management, Workplace Safety). An interesting trend was noted and, as is discussed below, has appeared over the last few years that we plan to explore more with our school partners in greater depth in the coming year: over 16% of ADLC’s course completions in 2016-17 came from students who, combined, registered in 2295 courses AND completed these courses over the second semester of the school year.

The Context

ADLC has compiled this data since it was first noted by a senior administrator in 2014. That school year, 2013-14, it was discovered that 3189 courses were enrolled AND completed in the second semester of that year. In the 2014-15 school year, 2774 courses were started and completed in the second semester while 2624 courses were started and completed in the second semester of 2015-16. While the number of courses completed has declined slightly over the three years, potential reasons for this decline are discussed below, these completions still represent a substantial portion of ADLC’s year-long course completions and all occurred within a similar time frame (the window for all measures has been February 15 to June 15 in each year).

Why is this Happening?

ADLC is a continuous intake education provider, with students able to register any time for their courses and have up to a full calendar year to complete. Not surprisingly, most ADLC student registrations happen early in the school year so that students can have as much time possible to complete their courses under school supervision.

September 2016 was responsible for approximately 27% of the ADLC student instruction enrollments for the entire 2016-17 school year. The period of February 2017 to June 2017 accounts for another 27% of ADLC’s course enrollments, these five months combined roughly equaling September’s enrollments

What is giving us pause on the second semester numbers? It’s not so much the total number of enrollments but rather the speed with which students are completing. These are students who are registering in late February, March and even early April and completing these courses in a much shorter time period than others take the full school year to do.

While this question will be further unpacked in the year ahead, ADLC does have theory to pursue. First, this data was taken after February 15, 2017. By that date, students from all high school grades have ALL first semester results (including provincial exam assessments) returned to them. In other words, by February 15 students in high school know where they stand in their overall school program after the completion of the first semester.

Imagine you are a Grade 12 student and have discovered you did NOT get certain credits you were counting on for either graduation or post-secondary entrance. Imagine you are a Grade 10 student who tried a Grade 10 academic course for which you thought you had the skills but did not and now find your Grade 11 year is in jeopardy because you do not have that particular Grade 10 core course to continue moving your program forward.

In other words, it appears the second semester students registering at ADLC may have a unique motivation for completing courses possibly not shared by their peers who entered their program earlier in the year.

This is not true credit recovery, where students who were unsuccessful in a portion, or portions, of a course are given a chance to master those portions. It is somewhat related in that it is providing students a chance to adjust their academic programs based on the results of the first semester, it is more a process of program recovery. Distance education provides the flexibility for students who do need to make these “on the fly” adjustments to their programming needs and to determine the gaps in their program that must be filled before completing their current year of schooling.

The Questions

While ADLC students registering in the second semester in the school year complete many courses that semester, there has been a decline year over year since this measure was first taken in 2013-14. This has been happening at a time when ADLC course registrations have been generally increasing year over year. Is this a matter of schools better at planning their students’ academic programming and getting them registered closer to the start of the year for better local facilitation?

More interestingly, this past year is the first time the Grade 12 portion of the completed courses was not predominant. In 2013-14, when the measure was first taken, 1565 of 3189 (or 49%) of the course completions were by students identified as Grade 12. In 2016-17, 838 of 2295 (or 37%) of the course completions were by students identified as Grade 12.

In 2016-17, 880 of the 2295 (or 38%) course completions were by Grade 10 students to lead the high school grade levels. Grade 10 students only accounted for 895 of 3189 (or 28%) of second semester course completions when this measure was first taken in 2013-14. Interestingly, while the total number of completions has declined, that decline has been primarily from the Grade 12 completions with Grade 10 completions remaining reasonably consistent through the years.

For the sake of completeness, course completions from Grade 11 students have tracked as the lowest of the three high school grades for as long as these measures have been taken, from 23% of the second semesters starts and completions in 2013-14 to 25% in 2016-17.

While there is no direct explanation, it is fair to note that the 895 Grade 10 students who completed courses in the 2013-14 school year would have been in Grade 12 by the 2015-16 school year and it is quite possible that the intervention into their program at that early grade may have precluded the need to address program gaps in their Grade 12 year; success in Grade 10 may leave fewer gaps in Grade 12.

Discussion and Next Steps

There are many directions to go given the data and consideration of what is being observed observed here. To start, ADLC will be undertaking to share this information directly with school partners to ask for their assistance in answering two basic questions that have been raised: 1) why are we seeing so many students start and complete their distance education courses within the second semester, and 2) why are we seeing a decline in the number of Grade 12 students in particular over time?

Again, this is not credit recovery in the true sense of the word, but perhaps this is a wider process of program recovery, allowing students to address the need of their overall academic program to achieve their goal. As ADLC moves forward, the more we understand about our students, and their potential motivations, the more we can build meaningful relationships between students and teachers. As such, we will be exploring the success and motivation of students registering for ADLC courses in the second semester of the school year.