About Meridian Community College
Meridian Community College (MCC) is dedicated to improving the quality of life for its local community, serving a diverse set of cultural and occupational needs. With nearly 3,000 students, MCC offers campus-based and distance learning experiences leading to certificates, associate degrees, and university transfer in more than 40 areas of study, including healthcare and manufacturing.
Meridian integrated Harmonize, a suite of online discussion & collaboration tools, with Canvas to facilitate stronger student engagement. MCC chose to use Harmonize across all disciplines to support a variety of different learning styles and to drive better learning outcomes for the 30% of students taking online courses.
Meridian Creates a Level Playing Field to Boost Student Engagement in Online Courses
With non-credit and career certificates as well as technical degree programs, MCC helps students gain the skill sets needed to join the workforce. More than 35% of students over the age of 25 and enrolled part time — meaning MCC serves a significant working student population, which puts a considerable number of students at-risk for attrition.
Also located in a largely low-income, rural area, the institution is increasing access to workforce training opportunities by delivering online learning in ways that provide flexibility, equal access, and the same high-quality learning opportunities that full-time, on-campus students experience.
With the goal of building the best online distance education program in the country, MCC is focused on differentiating itself in order to attract students, expanding learning options for an underserved student population, and increasing completion rates.
To achieve these goals, the institution is:
- Supporting faculty with digital tools that drive online engagement,
- Increasing student collaboration and student-to-instructor communication, and
- Easing the barriers that often limit student participation in online and blended courses
The Harmonize Solution
Developing Unique and Personalized Learning Experiences
As learning models evolve, Meridian Community College is invested in designing learning experiences for the modern student, whether it be on campus, fully online, or blended — allowing students to choose the options that work best for them.
In addition to increasing access, MCC focused on improving the level of engagement for students enrolled in online programs. To do that, Meridian leveraged Harmonize to create better connection and collaboration among students and with instructors. From easy-to-access polls and Q&A to more cohesive discussion boards and multiple milestone due dates, instructors were able to elicit more frequent and ongoing participation from students in their online courses.
SUCCESS IN ACTION
For example, in online math courses, students are prompted by multiple due dates to contribute to course discussions and take part in practice equation sessions. These milestone practice sessions have increased student participation and collaboration in a discipline not traditionally known for collaborative work — proving versatility across disciplines.
“Harmonize is a powerful resource for student engagement. It allows students to reinforce mathematical topics that they are learning each week,” said Crystal Sterling, Mathematics Instructor, Meridian Community College.
Further, a familiar feeling interface and intuitive in-app content tools made it easier for students to create and submit videos, audio snippets, or text contributions to discussion boards. With auto captioning, anonymous posting, and multi-device availability, Harmonize drastically reduced the barriers that often prevent students from actively participating in online courses — especially important for diverse learners and non-traditional students juggling multiple responsibilities.
The Impact at Meridian Community College
Increased Student Participation Fosters a More Connected Learning Community
Prior to Harmonize, instructors primarily relied on the LMS and, in the majority of cases, were not incorporating discussions into their courses. In fact, less than 10% of online courses used discussions.
Within two semesters of integrating Harmonize with Canvas, 50% of courses used discussions. The response from instructors and students has been so positive that by next year, they plan to have 100% of courses use Harmonize for discussions. Many instructors have become so enthusiastic about the ability to increase student engagement in their courses that they have started to set course goals around the number of posts and comments expected of students, as well as how frequently they interact with students.
Harmonize has also enabled instructors to foster more engagement and collaboration in face-to-face courses. For instance, in F2F classes using Harmonize, instructors can post questions before class in preparation for synchronous classroom discussion. After class, instructors post follow up questions to reinforce the classroom discussion. Students respond to these questions in Harmonize — creating more opportunities for discussion and deeper reflection on course material.
With Harmonize, instructors had the tools needed to encourage more collaboration and discussion, which has helped bridge synchronous and asynchronous learning.
56% Increase in Student Engagement from Discussions
When comparing student activity in Canvas discussions, a substantially higher number of students interacted in courses that used Harmonize discussions. Previously, students often waited until the last minute to post in discussions, creating a backlog of responses that became difficult to evaluate and also prevented meaningful opportunities for interaction.
Using multiple due dates in Harmonize, instructors now assign more frequent participation requirements within a single discussion to drive regular engagement. These requirements include commenting on a classmate’s post, creating a response to a discussion prompt, and adding reactions throughout discussions. With these new capabilities, the institution saw a 56% increase in student engagement*.
*Includes # of student comments in discussions that included milestones vs. no milestones
A More Accessible, Inclusive Online Experience Drives Engagement
Without the built-in social interaction of traditional classroom learning, online learners — particularly older and nontraditional students who may never step foot on campus — can feel disconnected both from their learning and the broader campus community. To curb the sense of isolation that online learning can create, MCC used Harmonize to create a more inclusive learning community with more ways for students to interact with instructors and their peers.
For instance, rich multimedia and annotation features allow students to express themselves in the ways that work best for them. Facilitating online collaboration this way has given students the opportunity to share more of their work with one another, both giving and receiving richer feedback.
Harmonize also makes it easier to break students into groups to discuss and collaborate on specific topics as well as support student facilitation so students can take the lead on guiding discussions with their peers. And even more importantly, auto-captioning and fully accessible tools ensure that students of all abilities are able to participate. By creating more opportunities to interact and enabling an inclusive approach to different learning styles, MCC built a better connected learning community for all students.
As an added benefit, MCC now has a way to quantify this engagement too. Through student-to-student, student-to-instructor, and student-to-content engagement insights within Harmonize, MCC will be able to proactively respond to current RSI guidelines and is set up to demonstrate the quality of their online programs as standards continue to evolve — especially important for its Quality Enhancement Plan.
Increasing student engagement is a key component of MCC’s Quality Enhancement Plan for SACSCOC reaffirmation — and is focused on three critical elements:
- Mentoring – Every full-time MCC student is assigned a mentor or advisor based on a program of study.
- Connecting – Mentors connect students to resources available to help them overcome barriers to completing their degree. (i.e. tutoring services, food pantry & book programs)
- Completing – Mentors will help students complete their programs of study and meet their educational goals while improving MCC’s retention and graduation rates.
Harmonize remains one of the tools helping to operationalize these QEP goals and will continue to be a critical driver of student engagement. As a result, MCC will be able to demonstrate increasing levels of student engagement, and in the process, build a more accessible and connected distance learning experience.