First Impressions Matter: Strategies for Creating an Online First-Year Experience (OFYE) that Lasts
Concurrent Session 1
As the saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression, so make it count! From orientation to first-year seminars and social integration, this presentation will provide practical onboarding strategies that impact online student success and persistence during the first year of college.
All incoming students have a first experience with their institution. In online education, however, many students are not making it to the finish line and leave the institution during the first year. This may be due to competing priorities, lack of academic preparation, motivation, or personal connection to the institution.
Completion and graduation rates for online programs continue to lag those for face-to-face programs (Mulijana & Luo, 2010; Murphy & Stewart, 2017). In response to these retention and completion rates, a plethora of student support services has arisen. These efforts are based on principles popularized by first-year experience efforts for traditionally aged, on-ground students. However, the strategies developed to support the transition of traditional students in face-to-face instructional settings have undergone significant modifications to address the unique needs of adult learners in the online learning environment.
This presentation will explore three high impact practices that have been proven successful at multiple institutions, which include orientation programs, first-year seminar courses, and integrating new online learners into an academic environment. Outcomes for the presentation include:
Define the “Online First-Year Experience” (OFYE) and why all institutions with online programs should offer one.
Describe various approaches to the orientation (or onboarding) process for new online students.
Differentiate approaches to the first-year seminar course, also known as the college success course.
Discuss the social integration process of new online students in order to create a sense of belongingness.
Intentional OFYE programming is essential. Now more than ever, it is imperative that students not be treated as aggregate numbers but that they experience a more personalized approach that begins on day one. Through collaborative partnerships, those who provide services and instruction to new students at the outset of their collegiate journey can provide a meaningful online first-year experience that transcends the distance between learners and their learning experience. While these supports follow a typical path, no two online students or are identical, nor are institutions providing online instruction. Therefore, OFYE programming is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Rather, these best practices must be customized at each institution in order to further the educational aims of their student population.
Mulijana, P.S., & Luo T. (2019). Factors contributing to student retention in online learning and recommended strategies for improvement: A systematic literature review. Journal of Information Technology Education, 18, 19-57. DOI: 10.28945/4182