We Planned an Orientation but Built a Shopping Cart: Transforming Orientation into a Customizable Student Resource

Concurrent Session 6

Brief Abstract

Although IU Online developed a  comprehensive orientation program for fully online undergraduate students enrolled at one of the university’s six campuses, utilization patterns quickly refocused development to reinvent the orientation as an onboarding portal. IU Online will share onboarding resources university-wide with academic programs and faculty by leveraging Canvas LMS.  


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.
I am the Senior Managing Director for Professional, Continuing, and Online Education for the College of Science and the College of Liberal Arts. As a Purdue Online administrative lead, I partner with the College's academic leads as well as the functional leaders of Learning Technologies, Program Management, Student Services, and Online Corporate Partnerships. I currently teach online for University College's First-Year Experience at IUPUI.

Extended Abstract

New online students are often guided into orientation programs as a one-time, ready, set, go introduction to university programs and online learning. Too much information in a short amount of time overwhelms students’ memory systems, resulting in their inability to retain important information. What if the short-term orientation expanded into an onboarding resource that students could continue to access throughout their college experience? What if new resources would roll out at the appropriate time or existing resources “mature” based on student academic progress? Would introducing new information about topics such as graduation, study abroad opportunities, and connecting with alumni continue to draw students back?

Although IU Online developed a comprehensive orientation program for fully online undergraduate students, utilization patterns quickly refocused development to reinvent the orientation as an onboarding portal. Anecdotal evidence from online Student Success Coaches and data on students access in the learning management system revealed that students actually used the orientation as a just-in-time resource - a place to find relevant information at key moments of the student’s experience with online learning.

By moving away from a static, more linear, orientation of pre-programmed modules, IU Online’s student onboarding becomes a flexible experience by allowing students to select resources relevant to them at a particular point in time. Information about financial services, career advising, academic tutoring and support can be difficult for students to track down, especially when an online student cannot simply stop into a campus office. Imagine an online student scouring a university’s numerous websites while trying to determine if online writing support is available, or whether the student is eligible to take part in a study abroad experience. IU Online’s onboarding site is housed in the university’s learning management system, thus providing not only an introduction to the LMS but also a one-stop hub for resources, information, and actual human support for students.

To add a more personal experience, Success coaches invite students to the onboarding portal within two weeks of admission and then make regular contact with new online students to assist with the transition back to college and/or to online classes. In addition to hosting student onboarding, the coaches serve as conduits between students and other university service providers—including academic advisors and faculty members—to ensure students receive individualized support regardless of their ability to access a physical IU campus. Each coach is assigned a prescribed number of programs and students, and follows detailed communication and support plans based on best practices for support online student success. With the support of their coach, students identify their purpose for earning a college degree and establish a development plan focused on future goals, including how to leverage university resources to meet those goals.

IU Online’s work in this space is supported by the  Office of Online Education (OOE), a university-wide office supporting the implementation and growth of online education across Indiana University’s campuses. IU Online designed the original orientation to serve undergraduate students enrolled in a 100% online program offered by six unique IU campuses and provided both general and campus specific information and resources. In fall 2017, IU Online will open an onboarding catalog to allow units across IU to have access to content housed inside the onboarding platform. This will allow faculty, programs, departments, and others to use these materials in their own courses and welcome programs.

During this session we will show samples of the onboarding platform, explain how we check student knowledge, and discuss the development process - including why we changed the name from orientation to onboarding. Session attendees will be encouraged to share their experiences working with new online students and to share best practices from their institutions.