Shaping and Supporting the Online Student Experience

Concurrent Session 1

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

As the online education space continues to grow, questions of engagement, retention, and experience have come to the forefront. How do we as student services administrators best serve this growing population? How do we provide the same level of support and community to remote students?

This presentation will explore different aspects of the student experience, including best practices for creating an inclusive and engaging experience for online and remote students. Additionally the presentation will discuss what aspects of this experience student services administrators influence, which often does not include much of the course structure, content, and pedagogy. The presenters will explore this tension and highlight ways in which we can collaborate with instructional designers, faculty, and other administrators to create a high quality student experience. Many of these best practices are relevant to the on-campus student experience as well.

 

Sponsored By

Presenters

I have worked in student services through out college at UC Berkeley, and now for the past 2 years at Stanford. I work with a variety of professionals and graduate students to further their academic and career goals through our online programs, and think often of how I can improve our information/programs, the efficiency of our services, and the success of our students. In this role, I’ve been challenged to think more deeply about questions of access, and how technology and policy can intersect to broaden the audience that this format serves.

Extended Abstract

As the online education space continues to grow, questions of engagement, retention, and experience have come to the forefront. How do we as student services administrators best serve this growing population? How do we provide the same level of support and community to remote students?

This presentation will explore different aspects of the student experience, including best practices for creating an inclusive and engaging experience for online and remote students. The goals of the presentation include:

  • Highlight four key areas of the student experience:

    • Program Structure

    • Resources

    • Engagement

    • Community

  • Create a space for student services administrators to discuss their program or institution specific questions, and share knowledge amongst each other

  • Give those with little to no experience with online programs and learners a general overview of this field

  • Provide student services administrators with best practices and ideas they can bring back to their institution for improving the four key areas

Leading this presentation are student services administrators from the Stanford Vice Provost Office for Teaching and Learning (VPTL), who will draw on their own experiences working with online and remote populations when discussing this topic. VPTL supports a broad range of online programs, ranging from free courses to self-paced non-credit certificates to online graduate certificates and degree programs. Attendees will be encouraged from the start of the presentation to think about how they can find answers to questions themselves, either by surveying students directly and/or exploring what it's like to be an online student themselves by enrolling in a free or paid online course.

This presentation will also discuss the limited control student services administrators have over key areas of the student experience, while also providing possible opportunities for collaboration amongst administrators and faculty, instructional designers, and program managers. Before exploring each key area, we will highlight who has the most influence over these areas, and provide some real-world examples:

After this point in the presentation, we will provide time for attendees to discuss specific student support challenges within their programs, and share their own successes with other attendees. For those who do not work in online programs, or have little to no experience with them, we hope this offers an opportunity for them to learn, ask questions, and draw on their own student services experience to share ideas and consider what practices could still be applied to on campus student populations.

The first key area of the student experience to be discussed is program structure. Program structure is defined to include application and enrollment procedures, course offerings/scheduling, and academic deadlines. This may differ between programs in part based on whether or not they are for credit. Program Structure is an apt point of collaboration between faculty and student services administrators, as both will need to be consulted; faculty for the content needed in applications and course scheduling, and administrators for the processes behind all this. This segways nicely to the next key area of the student experience, resources, as whatever program structure is established will need to be clear in your student resources.

Examples of student resources includes course materials, frequently asked questions and other website information, and communication to students. Faculty and teaching teams mainly control course materials, but administrators can often control website content and communication. When shaping student resources, it is important to think about a number of factors including: clarity, navigation, ease of contact, and accessibility.

The third key area of the student experience discussed is engagement. Some examples of engagement are discussion forums, remote office hours, and group projects; notably, most of this falls under the control of the faculty and the teaching teams. However, student services administrators may find ways to influence best practices amongst teaching teams, by soliciting student feedback and relaying it to faculty, and showing appreciation to faculty/teaching teams who received excellent feedback from remote students. Additionally, student services administrators may find their own ways to create engagement between students and with their department. At VPTL we have been piloting a Slack Workspace solely for our remote students to connect and discuss their courses, etc.

Often connected to engagement is the fourth and final area of the student experience, and often the hardest to address, community. Community covers more concrete ideas like networking, but can also cover abstract ideas, like a general sense of belonging to a program or population. For online and remote students, it can be hard to feel connected to their program and other students, do to lack of physical proximity and in person interactions. Within VPTL, we have struggled to create this sense of community for our students, but have come up with some clarifying questions for attendees to ask themselves when exploring how to develop community in their programs:

  • Who is your population?

  • How does your university already engage distance affiliates (alumni, etc.)?

  • What on-campus services can you provide for online students? (example: many of our programs are non-matriculated, so certain library and tutoring services are not available for the majority of our students)

Finally, we will open up the room to general questions and comments. As a learning outcome, we hope to have provided student services administrators with best practices and ideas they can bring back to their institution for improving the four key areas of engagement.