Development of an Online Student Orientation: Supporting Success in the Digital Environment

Concurrent Session 3

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

In this session you have an opportunity to review our student orientation Digital Learning Essentials Canvas course used to support the success of undergraduates in the digital environment. We will discuss the steps and collaborations involved in creating this course and the associated student self-assessment for online learning readiness tool.


Jo Montie, MA (she/her/hers) is an Online Learning Systems Facilitator with the University of St. Thomas STELAR St. Thomas E-Learning and Research team. Jo develops, in collaboration with others, systems of support for students and faculty in their digital learning experiences. Jo's teaching experience in special education, MA in Educational Psychology (University of Minnesota, 1996), and more than 25 years of teaching and work in schools has informed her current focus on learner-centered teaching and accessibility practices in the online environment. Twelve of these years were spent teaching at the university level, including six years of creating and teaching online and blended courses as well as extensive work with faculty and staff at facilitating online course and program development. Jo is grateful to the many colleagues and students who help her to further develop her beliefs and practices to support sustainable, quality digital learning practices that promote greater access and equity for all learners and advance the common good.

Extended Abstract


During the summer 2017, our university began offering an array of fully online and blended courses, and the interest expanded to over nine hundred undergraduates taking online courses during this second summer (2018) of implementing online and blended courses. Following the first summer’s online initiative, it was determined that additional orientation and student readiness support would benefit students, and also support faculty in their effort to prepare students for these online courses.

 The creation of the Undergraduate Orientation to Online Courses Canvas site grew out of a process of interviewing people within the university to determine what students needed to know, building out the site modules in Canvas, creating a student self-assessment in Qualtrics, and then refining the site after seeking out feedback from faculty and students in order to make the site more useful and usable before launching in May 2018. The site was revised (based on summer 2018 data) and renamed Digital Learning Essentials for the fall 2018.

By attending this session participants will be able to: 

  • Understand the process our university used to develop this orientation site
  • Identify potential ways that the work we created may inform or support their own work to support student readiness and success in online environments
  • Review our course site and self-assessment tool. Participants will be given access at the end of the session to spend further time in the site and be able to share additional input

Additional Background

The Digital Learning Essentials began with broad goals and learning from a variety of stakeholders. The development of the site has been highly collaborative, both looking at the approaches other universities use as well as interviewing many internal stakeholders. To shape the initial design and content, in addition to learning from students and faculty, people interviewed also included representatives from Student Affairs, Academic Advising, Disability Services, Diversity and Inclusion, and Information Technology Services. The design work was further informed by seeking to follow online best practices around student support and quality course design, including student support features identified in the Online Learning Consortium Administration of Online Programs Score Card as well as elements of the Quality Course Teaching and Instructional Practice (QCTIP) tool.

Current Features of the Orientation Course

Based upon all of the initial learning from internal and external groups, the Digital Learning Essentials site was created and includes these outcome-based modules: 

  • “Your Tech Prep” begins with a Self-Assessment, and then information about a student’s technical preparation including tests for browser compatability, internet speed and video playback, and where to get tech prep help.
  • “Explore Canvas” with specific instructions on setting notifications, using Canvas on a mobile device, submitting assignments, and more.  
  • “Learning Success” includes strategies for time management and other success factors for students in online environments. 

 Lessons Learned

A key part of this process has been seeking input from a wide variety of people, and continuing to be open to bringing more voices into the fold. As we implemented the summer 2018 orientation site with nine hundred students, the conversations widened with the university community about other ways to leverage digital resources and experiences for student success. Student feedback was incorporated into the fall 2018 (second edition) of the site as a part of our continuous improvement process. These lessons will be highlighted in our Discovery Session, to accompany the presentation and access to our site.