Persistence & Persistent Assessment

Posted by Eric Ludwig at 9/20/2016 9:48:16 AM

In previous posts we have talked extensively about the importance of building in formative assessment and opportunities for instructor and peer feedback to improve learning outcomes.  As a corollary, we might also argue that increased formative assessment and consistent feedback can drive retention and student persistence efforts. It stands to reason that students failing to complete work and falling behind in a course (regardless of modality) would ultimately presage course-level attrition and poor performance.  Students who fall behind may do so for a number of reasons:  dissatisfaction with the course, poor individual preparation or time management, unexpected life events, or expected life events.


These are fairly broad categories (and do not capture all possible factors influencing a student’s decision to persist), so let’s take each of them in turn and examine what we can do to build courses and learning experiences that encourage engagement and persistence.

  • Dissatisfaction with the learning experience:  Here is where we can have the most influence as instructional designers and curriculum specialists.  How are designing courses and programs to keep learners interested and invested in their learning from start to finish?  We know that student satisfaction with the online learning experience is a good predictor of persistence (see e.g., Levy, 2004).  How do we ensure that our learners are satisfied?  And how do we do that while maintaining rigor and quality?  We can start by creating learning environments that build meaningful community, that encourage consistent and timely feedback from instructors and peers, and that utilize formative assessment to gauge learner progress and achievement.  We can look to social presence theory to help us encourage robust, interactive learning communities (see Tu & McIsaac, 2002 for a primer).
  • Preparation & time management:  As instructors and instructional designers, we cannot control individual learner characteristics, but we can engage our students with clear course design, ongoing assessment, and timely feedback.  We need to make sure that students understand two things: what they will learn and how they will learn it (or how they will display their learning).  At each level (program, course, and module), we should highlight learning objectives, list important tasks and assessments, and outline our expectations.  We should also stress time:  how much time should you expect to spend each day, each week?  And then we need to remain diligent: be prepared to communicate with students who might be at risk of falling behind. Incorporating regular formative assessment will also aid in keeping students accountable for their own learning, while opening up opportunities for feedback.
  • Life!: Sometimes life gets in the way and it can be hard to keep up!  As a father of a two-week old, I know this feeling quite well.  Whether expected or unexpected, learners might struggle to manage the responsibilities and time demands of work, school, and personal life.  How we interact with our students during their stressful times can impact their decision to persist.  We should work to cultivate a genuine learning community and authentic relationships.  Reach out to your students regularly, provide constant feedback and encouragement, and work to build personal relationships.  When something unexpected occurs, work with those students directly to come up with an alternative solution.   Consider alternatives to a traditional week-to-week schedule wedded to the academic calendar. Be flexible, but outcome-oriented.


Levy, Y. (2007). Comparing dropouts and persistence in e-learning courses.Computers & Education48 (2), 185-204.

Tu, C. H., & McIsaac, M. (2002). The relationship of social presence and interaction in online classes. The American Journal of Distance Education16(3), 131-150.

Why Canvas?

Posted by Eric Ludwig at 9/13/2016 9:49:15 AM

In 2011, Blackboard announced their decision to sunset Angel which prompted Cardinal Stritch University to enter the RFP (request for proposal) process to locate a new learning management system (*LMS).  When we went through our RFP process in the spring of 2011, Cardinal Stritch University had four different Learning Management Systems come to campus and present their proposal/sales pitch. Stakeholders from across the university participated in the presentations and demos of each product and the participants used rubrics evaluate how easy common tasks would be in each system. The Office of Information Systems reviewed all of the technical documentation to identify which system would work best within our current environment and with our student information system, Jenzabar.  After collating and reviewing all of the results, the committee had a vote and it was unanimous! Canvas would be our next LMS.  We spent the next year programming the configuration of Canvas to ensure the launch in August of 2014 would go smoothly for all users.  

With the launch in 2014 the institution set a minimal usage requirement of a course homepage and link to the course syllabus for all faculty using Canvas at Cardinal Stritch University. Since our initial launch of Canvas we have seen a gradual rise in usage among faculty, staff and students. Now in 2016, Canvas is being used in almost 100% of our courses regardless of format. Final Grade submissions within Canvas was announced as mandatory for all faculty using Canvas beginning August 29th, 2016. Since our initial launch we’ve seen Canvas introduce many new features including draft state and the new user interface. Compared to other learning management systems, Canvas is a very young: Instructure, Canvas' parent company, started in 2008 and the LMS was launched in 2011. Canvas now supports over 2,000 universities, school districts and institutions worldwide. With such a strong growth rate you might expect increases in support issues or outages to occur. However, in the last twelve months Canvas has reported an average 99.990% uptime, which is outstanding. 

I recently had the opportunity to attend a day long Canvas conference for “Canvas groupies” like myself.  Our first keynote speaker was the Senior Vice President of Product & Customer Experience, Mitch Macfarlane, who gave a great speech on why we should buy Canvas. At first the speech bothered me because I thought we already have Canvas so why would you devote 40 minutes of our day to talk to us about purchasing Canvas. As the day went on I dismissed the keynote address and focused on what sessions I wanted to attend. Many of the sessions introduced me to new and exciting ways to use Canvas and to other features Canvas has in development (HINT: A NEW Quizzing Interface is coming!). Talk about feeling energized! So what makes a Canvas conference such a powerful experience? It’s in the way that people talk about Canvas and how they have a crazy desire to get you to love the tool as much as they do!  

As I reflect back to the keynote delivered by Mitch it occurred to me that each person presenting during the conference emulated the excitement and desire to talk about Canvas as much as Mitch did in his opening remarks. It was like they couldn’t wait to share what cool new thing Canvas could do. It reminded me of a parent who might be overheard saying…”My daughter can ride her two wheel bike now!”.  Every presenter was enthusiastic, engaged and asked the audience repeatedly throughout the day, “What would you like to see Canvas do next?” It was invigorating to see the interest the presenters had in us (the end users) as we discussed our challenges around certain features  or a lack of certain features in Canvas.  While Instructure may be a young company and Canvas a young LMS, I believe the company holds the user experience at the center of all decisions.  This reaffirms why I am 100% behind our original and unanimous decision to select Canvas. I can’t wait to see what new feature is coming next.