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Why is getting data on BC’s online learning reality so hard?

The release of this year’s online enrolment report by Sloan Consortium that describes the 21% increase in enrollments in US post-secondary online courses, always begs the question of how does this compare with data from Canada (and specifically, from British Columbia)?

Recently, we have been working with the B.C. arts & sciences deans’ group to determine the amount of overlap of related distance/online course offerings and to research whether there might be a way to assist them with joint planning efforts.

For this work, we began by requesting data from the post-secondary data warehouse, and we received data on all course registrations into such courses over the past three academic years. In total, the data indicated that about 25,000 (5.6%) of the roughly 450,000 course registrations reported per year were for fully online courses (note that this data warehouse does not include the research university data). Including all reported course distance delivery modes (correspondence, video-conferencing, audio-conferencing, other), the total was about 9.7% of all arts & sciences course registrations.

The biggest problem we uncovered was data integrity: only 2 of 20 institutions reported delivering any course sections via mixed-mode or blended instruction (i.e. 18 of 20 institutions reported that 100% of each course’s delivery was either classroom based or internet or correspondence, etc.). Also, we determined that the coding method used for each course section varied widely per institutional processes, making it impossible to determine how many cohorts (actual sections) there actually were in practice (and how full any section was – were they at capacity?).

Next steps will include further discussion with institutional researchers to see if there are ways to improve the completeness and accuracy of this data. It will be pretty hard for BC institutions to provide meaningful data for comparisons with other jurisdictions until adequate methods for recording such information are commonly followed.