Investing in Services for Online Students

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By Lurene Kelley

Walk around campus and you’ll see students wearing backpacks, laughing with friends and ducking into Alfonso for a bite. That’s our student body, we tell ourselves. But what you may not see are those students registered for one of the 180+  seats in online courses this semester. This number doesn’t even include the CAPS program, which offers numerous courses online.

Most CBU students taking classes online are simultaneously taking courses on campus. They are the same ones you’ve seen with the backpacks, joking with friends and munching on a cookie as they leave Alfonso. But there are others you won’t see. Some started out on campus, have since moved and are finishing degrees from another city or state. Others live in the Mid-South, but work full time, have family and are taking what they can online.

So even before CBU launches a fully-developed program of online majors, we already know something about what it means to have students experiencing limited or no interaction with the physical CBU campus. Even if they don’t know how to get to the Canale Arena, though, these students are every bit CBU Buccaneers. We may not see them in the physical classroom or in our offices, but they are our students to teach, mentor, tutor, retain and graduate.

The charge for the Online Learning & Educational Technology (OLET) team and for every office on campus is to provide the same level of service to online students as is provided to on campus students. This straightforward formula, however, isn’t as simple as it seems.

Investing in Online Students 

The National Center for Education Statistics finds that on average, student services and related costs in the 2015-16 school year accounted for 20% of higher education spending at state schools. The expenditure is even more at private schools, where it can account for 30% of the budget.

But this is typically not the case for spending on online students. Robert Ubell, the Vice Dean Emeritus of online learning at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering, found that student services for online students is usually an afterthought.

Ubell says this disparity is particularly troubling, because online students desperately need quality assistance. A 2017 US News survey of online students determined that 84% work while going to school with about 60% working full time. Contrast that with on campus students: an average of 70% work and 25% of those students are working full time.

Given the additional load most online students are already balancing, they may not be able to handle the extra stress of financial aid bureaucracy, ignored emails or calls bounced from department to department. Especially, if they can’t just walk into an office and experience a friendly face.

Student Services for CBU Online 

This is why the OLET team is working to gather or prepare as many services as possible for online students, before we ever recruit our first fully online student. For CBU, it is both an ethical imperative and smart management to treat online students the same as on campus students. If online students are left to fend for themselves, they can leave for another online program or, worse, feel that their time with CBU has been frustrating and isolating.

Some CBU student services are simpler to provide virtually than others. For example, Plough Library offers an always growing database of online publications that students off and on campus access in an almost identical manner. Library staff is available five days a week until 11pm to offer assistance via phone and email. Canvas Help is provided 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by phone, email or even chat. And our Career Services office is already accustomed to giving resume and coaching advice by phone or email.

Of course, the most important connection online students have with CBU is you, the faculty. Whether as their classroom instructor or academic advisor, online students who never or rarely set foot on campus can feel as if they are a valued member of the CBU community because of you. Just as it happens for students on campus, the CBU experience often comes down to the professor/student relationship.

Some services, though, are more difficult to translate to online than others. With just one counselor at CBU and concerns about HIPPA rules, will CBU ever be able to provide counseling services? What about Campus Ministry, CBU 101, Career Fairs? How will those experiences be made available to fully online students? Those are all areas that must be reimagined for a virtual environment.

The Webex video conferencing feature has recently been integrated into Canvas, and we are collaborating with Career Services and Academic Services to determine what it will look like to access tutoring or career consultations via virtual meeting spaces. This conversion to online is about more than just turning on a web cam, however, so we are working together to figure out how these critical needs will be met.

Questions remain, but unlike most universities that have launched online learning programs– we are focused on finding these solutions while we’re still building a full array of online majors. For CBU, how we serve our online students is as important as recruiting and teaching them.

What You Can Do

While the bulk of preparing services for online majors is the responsibility of OLET and other offices dedicated to serving students, there are a few things that faculty can do as you advise and teach students:

  • When advising a student who is working full-time and only taking classes online, suggest they take fewer classes, not more. Yes, we want students to get their degrees, but succeeding in an online course is time consuming and requires students to stay on track or else quickly fall behind. At NYU, advisors have found that online students who also work full time should try to limit their load to two courses a semester.
  • When you set a deadline for an assignment, such as midnight Sunday, remember that even for on campus students – it’s difficult to get assistance on the weekend. If you assign a Sunday evening deadline, remind students that at CBU, there is a librarian on call until 11pm Sunday and Canvas tech support is available 24 hours, 7 days a week by calling (901) 318-3024 or by using the Chat feature inside Canvas. You may also want to check your email more frequently the evening of the deadline to see if students are requesting help.
  • Use the Webex feature in Canvas to meet virtually with online students. CBU has an enterprise license with Webex, meaning that every person with a CBU account can host a WebEx meeting. The OLET team is developing training for this service, but in the interim, feel free to dig in. Just go to teams.webex.com and log in with your CBU username and password. You can set up individual and group meetings, breakout sessions, webinars and events.
  • If your online students need more assistance than you can give or if you are concerned about their progress – send them to me! I will do everything I can to help them create a plan or find needed resources.

Lurene Kelley, Online Student Success Specialist

Lurene.kelley@cbu.edu

(901) 321-4456

Sources

(2018) Expenditures: How much do colleges and universities spend on students? Retrieved September 12, 2019 from: https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=75

Friedman, J. (April 4, 2017). U.S. News Data: The Average Online Bachelor’s Student. U.S News & World Report. Retrieved September 12, 2019 from: https://www.usnews.com/higher-education/online-education/articles/2017-04-04/us-news-data-the-average-online-bachelors-student

Smith, D. F. (May 22, 2014). Who is the Average Online College Student? EdTech. Retreived September 12, 2019 from: https://edtechmagazine.com/higher/article/2014/05/who-average-online-college-student-infographic

Ubell, R. (July 17, 2018). Does Online Education Help Low-income Students Succeed? EdSurge. Retrieved September 12, 2019 from: https://www.edsurge.com/news/2018-07-17-does-online-education-help-low-income-students-succeed

Westra, K. (October 29, 2018). Online Student Services: What, Where, Who, When, How, and Most Importantly, Why. EDUCAUSE Review. Retrieved September 12, 2019 from: https://er.educause.edu/articles/2018/10/online-student-services-what-where-who-when-how-and-most-importantly-why

Lurene Kelley is an Online Student Success Specialist.

Learning to Swim (Online!) with OLET

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By Dale Hale

It has been said that some people learn to swim by being thrown into the deep end of the pool. I don’t know if that’s true, but I can tell you that having good lessons can go a long way toward helping a person learn to swim properly.

Some people have been “thrown into the deep end” of software and been expected to learn on their own. Humans are resilient and can educate themselves. Although, it can be similar to self-medicating — it is rarely best practices and sometimes does more harm than good! It never fails that when someone who really knows the software comes along and shows the self-taught person how to properly use the application, things “click” (no pun intended) and they get it.

I am happy to tell you that we (OLET) never want anyone to miss an opportunity to learn. We do not believe in throwing people into the deep end to fend for themselves. That’s why we have offered approximately 30 sessions of Canvas Basic training since March and are still offering them this month.

We believe so much in online teaching that we have created an Online Faculty Training course that will help faculty learn to make the switch from the traditional classroom to the online classroom. This training course will give you the very basics of teaching in the online environment. It is a short, four-week, asynchronous class designed to fit the busy faculty’s schedule. The next one is beginning very soon. If you’re interested, just click here to go to our website and enroll in Online Faculty Training. Oh, and by the way, successfully completing the training and then deploying that training in an online course will gain you a stipend!

We have another opportunity that will take you beyond Online Faculty Training. We call this multi-day event, “Course Design for Today’s Student.” It will equip you to build an online course that is immediately ready to deploy online. Because this is an actual course development, it comes with a sizable stipend for the successful completion of the course, including designing and building the complete course. This opportunity is open to twelve faculty who have completed the Online Faculty Training and are interested in developing a fully online course with the expectation that this course will be used online in the very near future. You can register for the workshop here.

Friends, we want to help you do your life’s work – to enlighten, inspire and enrich the students who enroll in your course. We truly believe you can do all of this as well in an online course (or maybe even better!) than in a physical classroom. Be on the lookout for even more training opportunities. In mid-October, we will be rolling out offerings for both WebEx and Canvas Studio (both video platforms). Beyond that, watch for trainings in online grading, taking attendance, and more advanced features of our Learning Management System, Canvas.

We’re here to help. Let’s work together.

To register for all course offerings by the Center for Digital Instruction visit our website: https://www.cbu.edu/cdi-training

Dale Hale is the Director of Online Learning & Educational Technology.

Growing as an Online Instructor

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By Tyler Isbell

Lou Holtz is the only coach in NCAA history to lead six different football programs to bowl games. Of these programs, the most memorable is Notre Dame. Including a win at the 1988 National Championship, Coach Holtz led the Fighting Irish to bowl games for nine consecutive years and finished eleven seasons with a 100-30-2 record.

Although his performance at Notre Dame serves as the crown jewel of his coaching career, it also serves as one of his biggest regrets.  In a commencement speech to the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Holtz shared this from his time at Notre Dame:

We took a program on the bottom and we took it to the very top… We put it on top and we maintained it.  That’s the thing I regret the most.  See, there’s a rule in life that says you’re either growing or you’re dying.  The tree’s either growing or it’s dying.  So’s grass. So’s a marriage. So’s a business.  So’s a person.   Doesn’t have a thing to do with age.  My birthday candles cost more than the cake.  It has everything to do with trying to get better (Inspire Bingle, 2017).

Holtz admits that he became complacent with where he was as a coach and where his players were as a team.  He believed that they had arrived and simply needed to maintain their success: no risks, no improvements, no drive, and no growth.  It would only be a short period of time before their success quickly passed away.

Regardless of your level of experience, past success, or confidence in teaching off or online, it is important to remember that no one has arrived.  The rule in life that applies to trees, grass, and football also applies to planning, designing, and teaching online. For those that seem to have it all together, this might be a disappointment.  For most everyone else (including me), this is an encouragement that trying new things and making mistakes is only a part of the growing process to becoming a better instructor.

Today’s  ‘Small Teaching Online’  Tip: “Cultivate Your Online Teaching Practice.” 

Gardens rarely sprout and prosper without cultivation. The same is true when it comes to your online (and offline) teaching abilities.  It’s essential to “find ways of impassioning yourself so that you don’t become stale in your online classes” (Darby & Lang, 2019).  Strive to care for and work on your online courses with the same dedication you have for your in-person classes – we want ALL of our students to learn, earn a degree, and successfully begin a career, regardless of modality or location.  In other words, making time to grow is also making time for your students to grow. These small strategies are great ways to foster positive change in your practice:

  • Take an online course – All teachers were once students, and their personal experience often shapes how they approach instruction. Taking an online class, whether it is for credit or for a personal interest, is an excellent way to see what works (or what doesn’t work) in the online classroom. Being an online learner will help you build empathy for your own online students.
  • Look for and ask for exemplars – Examples can inspire you or model strategies that work for other instructors and students.
  • Start small, but continue to try new things – Build confidence and mastery by trying something new each week or term. Incremental growth is still growth and will help you avoid burn out.
  • Seek quality certification for your online course design and teaching – OLET offers in-house training and workshops geared towards best teaching practices and course design. Sign up here.
    • In-person Trainings, such as our upcoming Canvas trainings and instructional video trainings.
    • Online Faculty Training (OFT):  This four week completely online training course allows you to study and exercise best practices as you create your own course.
    • Course Design for Today’s Student: A three day workshop that investigates student needs and how an efficient and effective online course can be developed. Individual feedback and support is provided to participants after the workshop until an actual course is completed.

References 

Darby, F., & Lang, J. M. (2019). Small teaching online: Applying learning science in online classes. San   Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Inspire Bingle. (2017, September 15). Lou Holtz – Silver spoon motivational speech | University of Steubenville [Video file].  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nfoQBmNW_JQ

Tyler Isbell is an OLET Instructional Designer & Trainer