Online courses, particularly those at for-profit colleges, have been pilloried for their high dropout rates. The American Public University system does better, says Frank McCluskey, its executive vice president and provost. Nearly 80 percent of freshmen return as sophomores, he says, and technology plays a key role. At the 2011 Higher Ed Tech Summit in Las Vegas, he explained how the university manages this in a system that has 80,000 students. “The digital classroom has brought a lot of digital footprints, a lot of data,” Mr. McCluskey says. “If we see a classroom in which there’s no discussion boards, no activity, we can very early on alert the professor that it’s not a good idea.”
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