The University of California Irvine (UC Irvine) last week launched its first Online Learning Research Center as a resource for students and faculty navigating online education in the wake of the coronavirus.
The center was supposed to open this summer. Its directors – Dr. Di Xu and Dr. Mark Warschauer, professors in the school of education – applied for a $10 million grant to establish it, funds they’re still waiting on. But when education professionals clamored for online learning advice — as dozens of colleges scrapped in-person instruction and decided to move to teaching online due to the pandemic — what was supposed to happen over several months unfolded in a matter of days.
Dr. Di Xu
The long-term goal of the Online Learning Research Center is to offer research-based guidance for quality and equitable online education.
“Unfortunately, historically, there has been a performance gap between online and face-to-face learning, and that gap has been most greatly suffered by those who are already struggling,” Warschauer said. “It’s the underrepresented students, the low-income students, the low-performing students … But we also know there are things we can do to reduce those gaps.”
In the short term, the directors realize instructors can’t design high-caliber online courses overnight. The hope is to provide “basic tips” to speedily “create the best learning experience they can, especially for diverse students,” he added.
Xu and Warschauer have been studying online education, and the hurdles that come with it, for decades now.
A lot of research is out there, Xu said, and now she feels a responsibility to quickly disseminate it.
Her work shows that, across states and higher education systems, especially more accessible institutions like community colleges, students experience lower retention rates in online courses versus in-person schooling with “substantial variation” from course to course and for different demographic groups. For example, younger students, male students and academically underprepared students tend to fare worse in online education.
“I’m worried that the
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