Student Onboarding Success! How We Used the Community of Inquiry Framework to Connect Virtually with Students

Concurrent Session 3
Streamed Session Leadership

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Brief Abstract

Student recruitment for hybrid graduate programs can pose a challenge due to a variety of factors.  Leaders can adopt the Community of Inquiry Framework to enhance student engagement in the educational experience.  This session will generate ideas to develop social, teacher, and cognitive presence during a virtual student onboarding plan.


Dr. Kline is an Associate Professor of Physical Therapy and the Director of Admissions at Hanover College within the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program. Dr. Kline earned his Bachelor of Art of Psychology from Benedictine University in 2003, his Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Midwestern University in 2006, and his Masters in Business Administration in Health Services Management at Ursuline College in 2011. In 2017, he completed his Doctor of Education degree in Organizational Leadership from Argosy University and plans to continue to explore strategies to improve job satisfaction among clinicians in the physical therapy profession. He has presented at a local, state, and national level at conferences on interprofessional education, education pipelines, and student success initiatives. Dr. Kline is a member of the APTA Education Section and currently serves on the Executive Board as Treasurer and Delegate for the Ohio Physical Therapy Association. He is also a board member for the Greater Cleveland YMCA and the Aurora Youth Football & Cheer League. Dr. Kline is an experienced clinician and has worked in various outpatient and inpatient rehabilitation settings throughout his career. He currently resides in northeast Ohio near the Greater Cleveland Area.

Additional Authors

Dr. Volansky serves as the Doctor of Physical Therapy Program Director and Associate Provost for Graduate Studies at Hanover College. Her diverse background includes teaching, small business ownership, and leadership experience. She was an associate professor at the University of Findlay weekend PTA to DPT Program for 17 years. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy from the Medical College of Ohio and a healthcare Masters in Business Administration from Baldwin Wallace College. She completed her Doctor of Science degree from Rocky Mountain University of Health Professions. She is a certified orthopedic clinical specialist and has a Hybrid Learning Certification from Evidence in Motion Institutes of Health Professions. Being a life-long learner, she recently earned her Doctor of Education degree from the University of Findlay. Dr. Volansky is an orthopedic physical therapist with an eclectic background in manual therapy, McKenzie method of diagnosis and therapy, instrument-assisted soft tissue massage, and joint mobilization/manipulation. She has two recent publications related to teaching hands-on physical therapy skills in a hybrid environment. She is a member of the Orthopedic, Education, and Health Care Policy & Administration (HPA) Sections of the APTA. She is a nominating committee member for the technology sig of the HPA section. She lives in Avon Lake, Ohio, with her husband and family. She enjoys golfing, biking, and warm-weather activities.
Dr. McFadden serves as the Director of Curriculum at Hanover College Doctor of Physical Therapy Program. She has a diversified background that includes administration, teaching, patient care in multiple settings, and small business ownership. She served as a Program Director and Instructor at Edison State Community College PTA Program for four years. Dr. McFadden is a seasoned clinician and has worked in the Physical Therapy field for 25 years. She earned her AAS in Physical Therapist Assistant from Sinclair Community College. She completed her Bachelor of Science in Physical Therapy at the University of Findlay PTA to PT Weekend Program. She has a strong belief in life-long learning; therefore, she earned her Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts. She furthered her knowledge by completing a graduate certificate in Health Science Educational Leadership from the University of Montana. Dr. McFadden holds a certification in lymphedema and chronic venous management and a Hybrid Learning Certification from Evidence in Motion Institutes of Health Professions. Dr. McFadden has practiced in many different venues, including hospital inpatient, inpatient rehab, outpatient neuro, outpatient orthopedics, lymphedema clinic, home health, and long-term care facilities. Her clinical experience includes treating patients with wounds, lymphedema, and other integumentary impairments. She was one of the co-founders of the lymphedema support group for Upper Valley Medical Center and is a member of the Geriatrics, Clinical Electro & Wound Management, and Education sections of the APTA. In addition to the APTA membership, Dr. McFadden is a member of the National Lymphedema Network. Dr. McFadden lives in Wilmington Ohio with her husband, two daughters, and her woodle Gracie. She enjoys cooking, baking, spending time with family and friends, and going to the beach.

Extended Abstract

The impact of COVID-19 in healthcare education continues to evolve and forced educators to pivot from traditional face-to-face instruction to an online format rapidly.  Alternative modes of instruction required educators to rethink instructional methods for hands-on lab sessions.  Social distancing, hand washing, and temperature checks became the new normal.  Mask wearing and protective gear kept faculty and students safe.  Despite good intentions, students experienced the negative consequences of emergency remote instruction, leading to isolation, anxiety, and depression.  How do you make connections with students in the virtual space during student onboarding activities?  Research shows that the Community of Inquiry theoretical framework supports social, cognitive, and teaching presence in online teaching and learning. 

Additionally, the literature also implies students may exhibit heightened levels of intrinsic responsibility to collaborate with educators and help solve the problems institutions face during the pandemic.  However, there is a gap in the literature that cites limitations with applying the Community of Inquiry framework throughout the new student onboarding process.  It is also apparent that uncertainties exist regarding students’ potential to engage in onboarding activities throughout the pandemic.  As programs strive to build a sense of community, effective communication, collaboration, and reflection contribute to high levels of student engagement.  The purpose of this research is to describe an online student onboarding program that supports student engagement and promotes student retention in a hybrid graduate Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) program in development.

Plan for activity: If selected as a virtual session, the 15’ presentation will consist of a brief PowerPoint lecture.  Five speakers will share example learning activities used during a virtual student onboarding program to strengthen the participants’ understanding of the Community of Inquiry Framework.  Questions and answers will generate ideas for the participants to establish social, teaching, and cognitive presence.

Plan for interactivity: If selected as an in-person session, the 45’ session will consist of the following:

  • Introduction and background (10’): Review the Community of Inquiry Framework and challenges in “hands-on” education in health professions (most notably during a pandemic)
  • Impromptu networking activity (20’): Facilitate group sharing ideas for virtual onboarding to help build new connections outside of their current organization.  We will need an open space for participants to assemble.  Participants will find a partner outside of their known relationships.  In each round, the partners will have 2 minutes per person to answer three questions: How have you developed social presence? Teacher presence? And Cognitive presence in your classroom? We will plan three rounds, each lasting 4-5 minutes.  We will use a virtual whiteboard to track participants' ideas.
  • Debrief: (10): Time for participants to share ideas with the whole group. We will solicit stories of wins and failures to make it fun!
  • Wrap Up: (5’) Review of key ideas and recommendations for follow-up.

The Takeaways:  

Building a sense of community and belonging is an integral part of the onboarding process for hybrid and online programs.  The Community of Inquiry Framework can help educators select intentional learning activities that address social, teacher, and cognitive presence.  Through networking and sharing ideas with peers from other institutions, participants will have new ideas that can translate into virtual onboarding processes for future reference.