High School Student Experiences and Learning in Online Courses: Implications for Educational Equity and the Future of Learning
High schools across the United States have rapidly adopted online course systems to provide instruction to their most marginalized students. The purpose of this dissertation was to examine how students interact with and learn from online structures, course content, and instructor identity with a focus on implications for historically marginalized student populations. The first paper found small, positive improvements in college attendance and college selectivity but not college persistence or degree attainment nationally among students who attended high schools offering online courses using inverse probability-weighted regression adjustment (IPWRA) and a two-stage least squares (2SLS) instrumental variables (IV) approach. However, students from marginalized groups were less likely to benefit from attending a school with online access apart from positive associations among students enrolled in rural schools. The second paper established that rather than authentic work, conceptualized as incorporating opportunities for higher-order thinking and real-world relevance, online course lessons most often required students to recite information. Likely due to low levels of preparedness to successfully complete tasks requiring higher-order thinking, I found that students demonstrated slightly lower performance and behavioral engagement when asked to complete these tasks. At the same time, students demonstrated slightly higher performance and engagement when lessons demonstrated more real-world relevance, although students from marginalized groups were less likely to benefit. In the third essay I identified few significant associations between course outcomes and being taught by a remote instructor of the same-race/ethnicity or gender. The finding that the mechanisms through which representation could benefit students in a standardized online course context were not associated with increased engagement or achievement indicates that other mechanisms, notably active forms of representation likely contribute a larger portion of the benefit of representation in the classroom.