Opportunity through online learning: Improving student access, participation and success in higher education

Dr Cathy Stone1, Mr Ed Campbell2, Ms Alicia Zikan3

1Visiting Research Fellow, The National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE) & Conjoint Associate Professor, The University of Newcastle, 2Manager of Student Engagement and Success, 3Program Manager, University of New England, 

This workshop provides an overview of a national research project funded under the 2016 NCSEHE Equity Fellows Program, in which 151 members of staff involved in online education were interviewed, across 15 Australian higher education institutions and the Open University UK.  The interviews investigated the types of practices, supports and retention strategies being developed and implemented within these institutions. This research was aimed at improving student retention and academic success for online students, particularly in undergraduate studies where there are high proportions of students from equity backgrounds, including many who are first-in-family. Together with evidence from the international literature, the research findings have informed a set of National Guidelines for Australian institutions for improving student outcomes in online learning.  The implications from both the key findings and the National Guidelines will be discussed and explored during this workshop, including an example from the University of New England (UNE) which illustrates how the guidelines can be used to inform institutional practices. The Personalised Retention and Engagement Program (PREP), offered by UNE, supports the transition of commencing external students by using student mentors (Masters & PHD candidates) from the point of enrolment and into the first trimester of studies via a series of personalised interventions.  Workshop participants will be invited to contribute their own experiences and practices within online education, to discuss the extent to which these findings resonate with their experiences and to consider how the guidelines could be applied within their own institutions.


Dr Cathy Stone, is a 2016 Equity Fellow and a 2017 Visiting Research Fellow with the NCSEHE. She is also a Conjoint Associate Professor with the School of Humanities and Social Science at the University of Newcastle, Australia. Cathy has had many years’ experience in developing and managing strategies to improve student success and retention in higher education, with her research and publications focusing on the experiences of mature-age, first-in-family and online students. Cathy’s work with Open Universities Australia between 2011-2014 developed her particular interest in researching the online student experience and ways in which to improve outcomes for these diverse cohorts.
Further details about Cathy’s work can be found at the following links:


Alicia Zikan is Program Manager at UNE, with particular responsibility for student leadership, and graduate employability development through co-curricular activities. She has contributed to several national research projects, including Shaping the 21st Century students experience at regional universities and UNE’s Team Lead. In 2015 Alicia received an Australian Award for University Teaching – Program Award for the New England Award program.

Ed Campbell is Manager of Student Engagement and Success at UNE, Chairs UNE’s Orientation Committee and leads UNE’s Early Alert Program which won both an OLT Program Award and Citation on 2011. He is interested in Engagement Analytics and (alongside Alicia) has been instrumental in building UNE’s Personalised Retention & Engagement Program which supports commencing off-campus students from enrolment through the first Trimester of studies.



The Australian and New Zealand Student Services Association Inc. (ANZSSA) is a professional association for people with an interest in the role of support services in post secondary education.

For more information, please visit ANZSSA website by anzssa.com.


ISANA International Education Association is the representative body for professionals in Australia and New Zealand who work in international student services, advocacy, teaching and policy development in international education.

For more information, please visit the ISANA website at www.isana.org.au.

Conference Managers

Please contact the team at Conference Design with any questions regarding the conference.