Leveraging Learning Resources in Your LMS: Virtual Tutoring, Peer Mentors, and Research Appointments

Concurrent Session 3

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Access and delivery of tutoring, peer mentors, and librarian support resources by integrating them directly within a LMS platform connects students to support at their point of need. Partnering with our course system engineers, our Library and Learning Services staff implemented innovative ways to increase students’ awareness of essential academic support resources.


As the Dean of Library and Learning Services at Rasmussen College, I oversee our CRLA-certified mentoring and tutoring programs in which our online Peer Tutors and Peer Mentors facilitate approximately 7,000 virtual appointments with students annually. I also serve as the Professional Development Director for the College Reading and Learning Association and as a board member for my state chapter of NADE. I am an (NCLCA) Certified Learning Center Professional - Level Three.

Extended Abstract

Exploring how academic support resources can be accessed and incorporated more closely into students’ online course experiences led our Library and Learning Services department to develop three specific resources primarily tailored to meet the needs of nontraditional online students.

First, the internal creation and subsequent integration of a “faculty dashboard” allows faculty to seamlessly refer their students to online peer tutoring without leaving their online course. Through an LTI (learning tools interoperability), Faculty select the subject of the tutoring appointment, then the students they are referring for tutoring. Lastly, the Faculty member assigns a date for completion. Faculty can then see whether a student acted on the referral from the dashboard. Secondly, a twist on a traditional student support resource - peer mentoring - helps us meet the needs of our diverse student body. The average age of a student who meets with one of our peer tutors is over 32 years old. Our peer mentoring program is designed to help these new students acclimate to online learning. Peer Mentors are adult learners themselves and help meet the affective needs of this student population. Data indicates strong first-term success rates and anonymous post-appointment surveys from students who meet with a Peer Mentor indicate it helps reduce their anxiety about returning to school. Lastly, the implementation of a “research appointment” widget within the LMS system allows for students in every course access to there Librarian for their program through scheduling a virtual research appointment. Students commonly struggle to perform academic research and, in particular, to effectively use online library databases.  Meeting with a librarian for a 30-minute one-on-one research appointment provides students with an opportunity to learn how to effectively and efficiently use the online library; having this occur virtually enhances the capability of the Librarian to engage with the student while s/he is navigating the collection of online databases. Recent (Kuglitsch, Tingle & Watkins, 2017) shows that in-depth research consultations are in high demand by students and encompass an increasing portion of academic librarians' reference    interactions, along with supporting student academic success and relieving library use anxiety.    

While literature has demonstrated a need for and appreciation of these services, we have expanded our impact by utilizing a virtual platform to interact with our students. This allows for greater flexibility and permits Librarians to connect with all enrolled learners. Our student support resources continues to evolve over time to meet the nuanced and ever-changing needs of a diverse and growing online student population. Determining the best practices for supporting students in multiple modalities of accelerated, online, competency-based, and/or hybrid courses is, similarly, an ongoing and collaborative journey. As the range of course experiences a student encounters within their higher education tenure continues to diversify, most institutions have chosen to focus primarily on alterations to curriculum and ensuring the appropriate pedagogical approaches are in place. Fewer institutions, though, have have assessed their student support measures to determine if they continue to meet the needs of students drawn to these new course formats.

It is well-established that students who utilize academic support resources, such as those provided by libraries and tutoring/mentoring programs, tend to achieve higher levels of academic support than those who do not. The recent Association of College and Research Libraries study indicated using “analysis of multiple data points (e.g., circulation, library instruction session attendance, online databases access, study room use, interlibrary loan) shows that students who use the library in some way achieve higher levels of academic success (e.g., GPA, course grades, retention) than students who did not use the library” (ACRL, 2016, p. 4). Similarly, students who are less academically prepared when they enter college benefit in terms of both GPA and college persistence when they receive formal academic support (Coladarci et al., 2013; Laskey & Hetzel, 2011), particularly when such help is received early in their college careers, (Tinto, 2004) (Winograd and Rust, 2014). It follows, then, that in order to impact the success rates of students enrolled in a variety of course types, ensuring that effective student support measures are in place - namely, those that meet the needs of an institution’s current student body and those similar to resources provided to traditional students - is a critical step.

We have found that integrating student support resources directly into the online course environment increases levels of student awareness, decreases the stigma associated with academic support resource usage, and ultimately increases usage of these critical resources. As Nellen (2003) points out, nontraditional student populations are drawn to distance education programs in part by the ability to work on course content at nights on weekends. This makes promoting traditional academic support services - which would require the student to commit even more time during standard business hours - even more challenging. However, there is evidence that “broadening the external resources (e.g. academic resources)” available to nontraditional students enhances their learning experience (Chao and Good, 2004, p.10). Institutions that are able to make it easier for nontraditional students to connect to learning resources will likely see this demographic take advantage of those resources; once usage increases, student achievement increases are likely to follow. Services offered at times or in ways (such as only in-person on campus) that make it challenging for nontraditional populations may emphasize an underlying stigma within this population that they are unlike “normal” college students, or that they need to become more like traditional students in order to be successful. If the modalities and times in which support resources are offered contribute to this stigma, this population of students may be less likely to seek out or utilize support services (Winograd and Rust). Conversely, adjusting to the needs of this student population - and marketing these resources to them appropriately - may help normalize their student experience.

Customarily, in-person courses encourage students to utilize academic support resources by directly discussing them within the classroom, either via a support staff member (a Librarian, for example) or the Faculty member. This approach helps students identify the most applicable resources, view them as relevant to their coursework, and normalizes the utilization of such resources (such as offering online webinars in addition to residential workshops) as part of the course experience. This approach, however, is not yet as common in courses that occur in environments that are not face-to-face.

Integrating student support resources, such as assignment-specific online learning resources, directly into courses is a response to the needs of nontraditional higher education student populations. This type of direct appeal to nontraditional students may also have the supplemental benefit of helping them “feel connected to campus,” bridging the gap for them in relation to this especially important factor which has a demonstrated connection to academic success, persistence, and retention (Opitz and Block, 39). As Nellen (2003) points out, nontraditional student populations are drawn to distance education programs in part by the ability to work on course content at nights and/or on weekends. Institutions that are able to adjust the availability of resources for students will be more likely to see nontraditional students take advantage of those resources, and assessment measures of academic support resources (a needs analysis, for example) can help determine the effectiveness of these student support efforts.

Improving access to support resources for nontraditional learners has also provided a direct connection to current college-wide student retention and student success goals: the use of resources to successfully complete assignments, increased levels of student engagement, and higher levels of student satisfaction. Both situations present a similar challenge: supporting students equally regardless of course modality or location. The content shared in this presentation will directly equip participants to meet this growing need.

We plan to engage participants in a variety of ways during this interactive session. First, we will briefly share an overview of our context - our diverse student population, our range of available course modalities for students, and our roles within the institution (5 minutes). Then, we will share examples of college-wide initiatives centered on collaborative approaches to supporting students. Participants will walk away from this portion of the session with clear strategies for building new partnerships or enhancing existing collaborations. Our examples will cover approaches to effective collaborations with Faculty, system engineers, and Instructional Designers (20 minutes). Next, we will screen-share resources as they appear in real-time - the result of their integration into courses of academic support resources (20 minutes). Attendees will have opportunities to ask questions, both regarding the implementation process and the specific resources demonstrated.

By the end of this session, participants will be able to:

  • Assess the needs of their student body and evaluate how effectively existing student support resources meet these needs

  • Identify strategic partners at their home institutions and either develop plans for initiating new collaborations or plans for enhancing these existing relationships

  • Measure and communicate learning resources impacts on student success including course completion, retention, and GPA


Association of College and Research Libraries. (2016). Documented library contributions student           to learning and success: Building evidence with team based assessment in action campus projects. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/acrl/sites/ala.org.acrl/files/content/issues/value/co...

Chao, R., & Good, G. E. (2004). Nontraditional students' perspectives on college education: A

qualitative study. Journal of College Counseling, 7(1), 5-12.

Kuglitsch, R. Z., Tingle, N., & Watkins, A. (2017). Facilitating Research Consultations Using Cloud Services: Experiences, Preferences, and Best Practices. Information Technology & Libraries, 36(1), 29-35. doi:10.6017/ital.v36i1.8923

Nellen, A. (2003). Using technology to teach nontraditional students. Tax Adviser, 34(5), 290.

Opitz, D. L. & Block, L. S. (2006). Universal learning support design: maximizing learning

beyond the classroom. Learning Assistance Review (TLAR), 11(2), 33-45. Retrieved from http://www.nclca.org

Winograd, G. & Rust, J. (2014). Stigma, Awareness of Support Services, and Academic

Help-Seeking Among Historically Underrepresented First-Year College Students. The Learning Assistance Review (TLAR), 19(2), 19-43. Retrieved from http://www.nclca.org/