In a first-of-its-kind study about the impact of online course pages on student enrollment, Cornell researchers found that women are more likely to choose courses with female teachers, but instructors’ skin color did not appear to influence class signups among underrepresented groups.
The field study – of 1.4 million registrations for 159 online courses at 20 institutions – showed that the way courses are presented online is related to participation by historically underrepresented students. Course discipline, stated prerequisites and the presence of gender cues significantly predicted enrollment, the researchers found, while instructor skin color, the linguistic style of course descriptions and references to diversity did not.
“The findings advance our understanding of ways to increase diversity and inclusion in online education,” said Rene Kizilcec, assistant professor of information science and first author of “Identifying Course Characteristics Associated with Sociodemographic Variation in Enrollments Across 159 Online Courses from 20 Institutions,” which published Oct. 14 in PLOS One.
“This research offers clear guidance to instructors and course designers by highlighting the importance of logistical features beyond social features for shaping enrollment diversity, and also identifying features that do not seem to matter much after all, like references to diversity or instructor skin color,” said Kizilcec, who directs Cornell’s Future of Learning lab. “We are now looking closely at how logistical features are understood by different learners and how we might present them differently to avoid people thinking that a course is too hard for them, or that they don’t belong