#WelcomeOnlineStudents: Collaborating to Build Flexible Orientation Experiences for Online Learners

Concurrent Session 6
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Orientation is a quintessential moment for residential students heading off to college. But what about online learners? IU Online is creating flexible, scaffolded orientation experiences that allow students to select resources relevant to them. Join us for a lively discussion-focused presentation and test drive some of our orientation experiences (BYOD).


Mitchell Farmer is Assistant Director, Campus Partner Programs for the Office of Online Education at Indiana University. Mitchell supports the development of seamless online student services through a collaborative partnership model with offices across the IU system.
Julia Sanders is the Associate Director of Collaborative Academic Programs at Indiana University. With 20+ years in secondary and higher education, Julia facilitates collaboration and meaningful communication with faculty and campus administration regarding curriculum, policy, implementation, and delivery of online programs. She directs the development of the curriculum for online degrees to ensure course quality and application of best practices.

Extended Abstract

Orientation is a quintessential moment for traditional, residential students heading off to college. They are invited to tour campus, meet faculty and staff, browse the book store, and maybe even enjoy a boxed lunch. But what about online learners?

Until a couple years ago, online learners at Indiana University got the exact same invitation to attend an on campus orientation - regardless of whether they lived down the road or across the country. Why were they being asked to come learn about buildings they never planned to use? Or meet with campus housing staff?  It did not take long to hear from students about this disconnect in services and content.

From a fall 2016 pilot, IU Online developed the university’s first comprehensive online orientation program in Canvas LMS for undergraduate students with fully online schedules. Serving seven unique campuses, the orientation program provided general and campus-specific information across a range of subjects and connected students with assigned Success Coaches.

Looking at admissions and enrollment data it was clear that multiple levels of orientation programming were needed to adequately support students. Some have no experience with higher education while others have attended college before but are learning online for the first time. Some might be taking a new type of course online for (e.g., math). Some might be new to their online degree program, department, or school. Some might be learning about their home campus for the first time or perhaps having their first exposure to Indiana University.  

To meet these needs, IU Online is creating flexible and scaffolded orientation experiences that allow students to select resources relevant to them at a particular point in time. And, we are working to address some key questions:

  • What if orientation shifted from a one-time event to a on-demand resource?

  • What if students could choose what type of orientation experiences they need to feel prepared for online learning?

  • How to serve both inexperienced and highly experienced users in the same learning environments?

  • Can these experiences reinforce both recruitment and retention?

We will share lessons learned and provide strategies, tips, and examples for orienting students to: 1) online learning; 2) online courses; 3) academic programs; 4) departments; 5) campuses; and 6) institutions. We will provide examples (and when possible access) to different orientation experiences, explain how we check student knowledge, discuss key performance indicators, and explain how real human interaction remains a key component of our services for online students. We will also share how we incorporate best practices for serving adult learners, Quality Matters design standards, and accessibility considerations in the instructional design process.

Via interactive tools, guided discussion, and open Q&A, session attendees will be encouraged throughout the presentation to share their experiences working to orient online students and to share best practices from their institutions.

Join us for a lively discussion-focused presentation and test drive some of our orientation experiences (BYOD).