Using Registration Timing as an Early Indicator of At-Risk Students in an Online Stem Course

Jeffrey A Bohler, Benjamin Larson, Steven Sherman, Hugh Mills
InSITE 2023  •  2023  •  pp. 012
Early identification of students at risk of not achieving course learning objectives enables instructors to intervene earlier to help students succeed. One of the first student course engagement activities is registration. This study aims to determine if registration timing correlates with student success in an online STEM course.

Student success is based on achieving course learning outcomes. Students who register very late may have a lower probability of successfully passing challenging courses, adversely impacting student retention. Earlier instructor intervention with at-risk students may improve student academic achievement.

This study analyzed historical data of 193 student numerical course scores and registration timings for a recently updated introductory management information systems and data analysis course at a university in the south-east United States. The course was delivered online over nine-week periods, by two different instructors, over two calendar years comprising one academic year. The response variable, overall course score, was evaluated based on the student’s course registration timing relative to the course start date.

We examined the relationship between registration timing relative to course start date and academic performance as measured by overall course score and letter grade. At a statistically significant level, we found that students who registered very late earned, on average, one letter grade lower than students that registered earlier in the registration window.

The analysis reveals that registration timing correlates to course scores. Also, 45% of students that registered after the course start date failed the course, and the overall course scores of late registrants were lower, indicating that very late registration may identify at-risk students.

Recommendations for Practitioners.
For students, carefully consider the decision to register for a STEM course late and understand why you delayed registering. Can you purchase the text and access codes to catch up on the first week’s assignments? Will you have the time to work harder in the first few weeks of the course to catch up? For instructors, be aware that students that register late for a course are at risk of not doing well and intervene if you observe the student falling behind the rest of the class or not engaging with the course. Administrators should carefully consider policies allowing late registration for STEM courses and its effects on student success and retention. What might seem like a promising idea in the short term (allowing a student to register late) may have deleterious long-term effects on student success and retention.

Recommendation for Researchers.
Researchers may consider the relationship between course registration timing and learning outcomes. Additional data collection on registration timings and course outcomes combined with data collected from students through surveys could shed light on the decision-making behavior of students that register for courses late in the registration window.

Impact on Society.
Improved student academic performance enables better use of academic resources. Students with higher academic performance qualify for scholarships, internships, and better job opportunities. For teachers, less time spent on low-performing students allows the instructor to challenge students academically to achieve higher levels of understanding. Finally, universities may enjoy higher student retention, and society will benefit from better use of financial resources dedicated to higher education.

Future Research.
Expanding the dataset to include other schools, courses, and learning modalities may provide additional insight into students’ registration behavior. Research on intervention strategies’ effectiveness based on student characteristics could be beneficial. Additional research on factors affecting students’ course registration decision-making process is required. Finally, a longitudinal study considering student registration timing throughout a degree program could identify chronic late registration behavior. Further study of the relationship between late registration and degree completion could provide valuable insights.
higher education, academic achievement, student retention, course registration behavior, learning interventions, at-risk students, linear regression
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