Advising for Online Courses

Screenshot 2020-02-20 16.36.41How’s your Outlook Calendar looking about now? Packed to the brim with advising appointments, no doubt!

When I was faculty at the University of Memphis, I typically advised 50 undergraduates. At 30 minutes a meeting (with many going longer than that) advising meant 25-40 additional hours packed into an already packed three weeks each semester. It’s a lot.

Advising, like the many obligations that eat at our schedule and try our patience, can also be rewarding. It’s a time to get to know students on a more personal level. It’s a time to understand how our students are experiencing the university on a broader level. Most importantly, though, it’s a time to lay the groundwork for a good and productive semester.

We’ve had online courses for years at CBU and one online degree. As the Center for Digital Instruction (formerly OLET) team works with faculty to develop more online courses and fully online degrees, you may find yourself increasingly fielding questions or concerns about online courses at CBU.

As the Online Student Success Specialist, I’ve been meeting with a number of our students. Based on those encounters, as well as the research around online learning, this is what I’ve learned:

Every student can succeed in an online course.* If a student has been accepted into CBU, they are as capable at succeeding online as they are in one of our traditional courses. The content is similar, if not identical. Some students may just prefer one mode of learning to the other. There is nothing intrinsically good or bad about online or traditional teaching. As it is in the traditional classroom, the quality of an online course is about the content, the class structure, as well as the care and responsiveness of the instructor.

*One note for students with vision or hearing issues. Just as would happen in a traditional classroom, accommodations can be made for an online course. Some technical solutions in the online environment can even be superior to accommodations made in a traditional classroom. For example – a screenreader can be installed on a student computer, so all written material is read aloud to the student. For students with hearing issues, most online material is in written form and closed captioning can be added for videos. 

Time management is the greatest predictor of student success online. When you’re advising a student interested in an online course, point out that they should treat their online course just like a traditional one. Adequate blocks of time should be scheduled weekly to “attend” an online course. Just like in a traditional course, attending online regularly is vital to success. A major benefit to online, especially for students who work or are student-athletes, is the ability to schedule class time when it works best for them. But it still must be scheduled. A student taking an 8-week online course cannot skip a week of class and make it up later, just as they couldn’t in the classroom. Many professors do not accept late work, and it’s not realistic to build up work and believe you can cram it into the last few weeks. Online courses are about pacing, in the same way as their traditional counterparts.

Online courses are not easier than traditional courses. If a student says this or you catch yourself thinking it, press pause. Online courses at CBU must meet the same learning objectives as their traditional counterparts. The same course taught online and in person will have similar, if not identical, content. Online learning can be more challenging, simply because students must manage their own time and may not be able to lean on peers as easily. Encourage students to connect with someone in their online course, just as they would in person. Having a study buddy can make online learning more manageable.

Consider the number of online courses a student wants to take. When CBU offers new, completely online degrees, students will be enrolling with the intention and desire to learn entirely online. Most of the students you’ll advise, however, will be taking one or two classes online mixed with traditional courses. Their desire and intent about online versus that of fully online students is an important distinction. It’s expected that a completely online student will take multiple online courses each semester.

But for students on a traditional track, their level of expectations and preparedness should be considered before taking multiple online courses – particularly multiple 8-week courses in the same semester.

Students often underestimate how much time is required of an online course and think they can just “knock out” a few 8-week 1st term classes in a semester. Depending on the student (past performance, number of hours working outside of class, athletics schedule, experience with online) this could be a recipe for disaster. If a student’s learning has taken place primarily in a traditional classroom and that student wants to take multiple online courses in one semester, make serious inquiries about how this will fit with their schedule, expectations and experience.

Consider the point in the term. Taking a 1st 8-week course online can be very different from taking a 2nd 8-week online course, just as it is in the traditional classroom. This is because the 2nd 8-week course will affect their schedule mid-way through the semester at a time when their full-term courses are also ramping up. Taking a 2nd 8-week course can be managed, however, students must have expectations set before making the choice.

Inquire about your advisee’s access to a computer/wifi. Student don’t need their own computer to take an online course at CBU. Our IT computer labs are open 24/7 to anyone with a CBU card. Students who have their own computers and internet access, though, have more opportunity to enter online courses at any time. Students relying on the computer lab must schedule their online course time around their ability to get to the lab.

Should Freshmen take online courses? At this point, we’ve observed CBU Freshmen who do very well in our online courses and those who do very poorly. Anecdotally, the Freshmen who struggle in online courses are typically those taking full loads and working numerous hours. Not surprisingly, they don’t do well online or in traditional courses! This has little to do with the mode of education and more the lack of their experience to understand time management at the collegiate level.

Concerned that your advisee needs help? Send your student to me! This is my job – to help students have the best experience possible in their online course. While your advisee is in your office, give them my phone number and ask them to make an appointment right there! Or send me a quick email with your student cc’d requesting an appointment. I’ll take it from there. You or your student can reach me at: 321-4456 or

What we’ve observed so far among CBU students, in general, is that those who aren’t doing well in online courses… are not doing well in traditional courses that semester, either. There are exceptions, but for the most part, failure to do well online often correlates with a high level of responsibility outside of school and/or failing to understand that online learning, just like classroom learning, requires dedication, time management and participation. As an advisor, you can help set expectations for online courses at the outset and improve their chances of succeeding online.

Click here to download the Advising for Online Infographic PDF


Lurene Kelley is the Online Student Success Specialist for Christian Brothers University’s Center for Digital Instruction. She holds a Ph.D in Organizational Communication from the University of Memphis and is a former college professor and journalist. 




Traditional, Online or Hybrid Learning: It’s all about access


Screenshot 2020-02-19 14.10.58As you know by now, we have an office dedicated to online learning and educational technology, the Center for Digital Instruction (formerly OLET). We even have a few full degrees that can be earned online. Yes, we are currently in the midst of developing more fully online degrees.

As you’d expect from the Director of CDI, I believe wholeheartedly in the method of online course delivery. I also believe that online courses can and should be at least as good as a traditional course. (If you haven’t already, you might want to sit down for this one) I also believe that an online course can be better than a traditional course, given good course design, compelling material, and engaged participants.

Despite all of this faith and optimism I hold for online education, I still believe in the traditional course built on weekly meetings. This mode of learning can be so beneficial to students. The opportunity to focus on one course as a group, for students to know the faculty, spend time in the library, and participate in the community of the institution makes traditional degrees and courses excellent learning opportunities.

Research supports that if most non-traditional students had their way, they would take classes in the traditional classroom setting. But they often can’t. Work, family, distance, and a combination of obstacles create a situation where many cannot take classes that are limited to certain times of the day on certain days of the week.

So in this instance, it’s the fully online courses that can provide the best opportunity for learning. The research shows, however, that these same students who take online courses for convenience would happily participate in a multi-modal degree. A multi-modal degree or course mixes online delivery with the traditional. Students who participate in hybrid, blended, or flipped classes typically find these to be the best of all worlds. They can make these classes work with their schedules, while getting the experience of the institutional community.

What does this kind of course look like? This mix of online and traditional delivery is called “hybrid” and comes in two different formats. The Hybrid Classroom is a course in which “online activity is mixed with classroom meetings, replacing a significant percentage, but not all required face-to-face instructional activities” (Mayadas, Miller, & Sener, 2015). A Hybrid Classroom course mixes both synchronous and asynchronous modalities, replacing a significant portion of the required face-to-face instructional activities, but not all. For example, a course may typically meet three times in a week. In this version, however, the class will meet in a physical space only once each week or even every other week, while offering online work that replaces the traditional face-to-face meeting.

The second type of Hybrid Course is called Hybrid Online. It is also referred to as a “flipped” course. Hybrid Online courses mix online and traditional modalities but with a strong emphasis on online. Most of the work will be done online while reserving some time at a physical location for specific work. For instance, a course may deliver most of the course content online but require a weekend of classroom work that would be highly practical and applicable to the course. In this example, students would only meet once or twice during the term.

Both of these kinds of courses (Hybrid Classroom and Hybrid Online) typically benefit regionally based students. So, while they expand the “walls” of the institution, it is still somewhat limited to those within driving distance of campus. That’s the trade-off.

In the end, we are interested in one thing: providing access to a quality learning experience for students who would not ordinarily have that opportunity. Friends, I don’t need to tell you, but that fits so neatly into the LaSallian model. If we can focus on opening our doors wider, reaching beyond the current boundaries to a broader constituency, then we create the opportunity to have greater influence than we have ever had.

If you are interested in putting your class fully online or creating a hybrid version, please speak to one of us here in the Online Learning and Educational Technology office. We stand ready and willing to help you imagine and dream, then embark on any of these creative course delivery methods to reach students in innovative and effective ways.

Contact: (901) 321-4004


Mayadas, F., Miller, G., & Sener, J. (2015, July 7). Updated E-Learning Definitions. Retrieved from Online Learning Consortium:


Dale Hale is the Director of CBU’s Center for Digital Instruction (CDI). He holds a PhD in Education Policy Studies and Evaluation from the University of Kentucky. Previously, Dale was the Director of Distributed Learning at Asbury Theological Seminary where he was in charge of all aspects of the institution’s distance education program. 

How Innovative is Your Innovative Course?

Screenshot 2020-02-13 15.22.35Alan November is an EdTech guru. A former teacher, headmaster, university and TED lecturer (see one of his TED Talks here), acclaimed author, and head of a successful educational consulting firm,

Alan is one of a handful of folks worldwide recognized as influential in the realm of digital literacy (find his bio here). If you haven’t read or seen his stuff, take a peek at his Ted Talk referenced above (you won’t be sorry). Alan is funny and unassuming, but also provocative.

Case in point: one of Alan’s pieces asks us techie/teacher folks if we are “rich in technology but poor in innovation” in terms of technology integration. His premise is that many of us are lulled into thinking we are good at utilizing innovative technology in our courses by the mere virtue of having Canvas classrooms full of tech-savvy students armed with the latest gizmos and whizz-bangs. In the piece, Alan suggests that if we are to know whether we are pursuing innovation in our classrooms, then we need to call up our most innovative lesson and ask ourselves six key questions:

  1. Did the lesson build the capacity for critical thinking on the web?

  2. Did the lesson develop new lines of inquiry?

  3. Are there opportunities for students to make their thinking visible?

  4. Are there opportunities to broaden the perspective of the conversation with authentic audiences from around the world?

  5. Is there an opportunity for students to create a contribution (purposeful work)?

  6. Does the assignment demonstrate “best in the world” examples of content and skill?

Full disclosure: I’ve always considered myself pretty good in terms of the integration of tech into my courses. But when I first read Alan’s piece, I began to doubt myself. Was I an innovative teacher? I thought so … but maybe not?

One dreary December day, I decided to put myself to the test. I reflected upon one of the lessons that I considered to be innovative and then applied Alan’s six questions to my recollection of the lesson, jotting down my insights and answers; thoughts which I shall share with you below.

Before I do however, I should tell you a little about the “innovative” lesson I selected. A few years back, I taught a global issues course, and one of the issues we highlighted during the course was poverty. During our month-long discussion on poverty, I had each student track their personal spending for a month and then compare their spending to the $2-per-day poverty threshold established by the United Nations. In addition to keeping a spending spreadsheet, I asked students to reflect upon their spending habits relative to their thoughts about people living at or below $2 per day. For students who wished to do so, I issued a challenge for them to join me to go for a month in attempting to spend less than $2 per day and to digitally log/blog, vlog their journeys.

So how did this “innovative” lesson fare as measured against Alan’s six questions?

Did the assignment build the capacity for critical thinking on the web? At the outset of the lesson, students were directed to the UN website to read about different poverty levels and to read about the background to the $2-per-day poverty threshold. Part of the lesson also directed students to read and discuss several case studies (published by The Choices Program) of families living in varying levels of incomes throughout the world. The lesson focused on primary source material (a positive) and also encouraged students to examine poverty through different perspectives (also a positive). I did not have students conduct research on the purchasing power of $2 per day in the countries in which the case studies were written (a missed opportunity, thus a negative) nor did we examine any alternative definitions of poverty other than those articulated by the UN (a negative). Grade: C.

Did the assignment develop new lines of inquiry? The central theme of the lesson was to inquire about what it might feel like to live on $2 per day or less, so the lesson itself was inquiry-based (a positive). Because we missed out on a discussion of purchasing power in different nations however, we missed out on lines of inquiry related to purchasing power (a negative). For example, we might have inquired about living on $2 per day in Lesotho versus neighboring South Africa. These lines of inquiry about the relativity of purchasing power would have enriched the learning experience and would have offered the students additional opportunities to critically analyze other sources of information. Grade: C/D.

Are there opportunities for students to make their thinking visible? During the month-long “unit,” I planned and provided for numerous class discussions and peer editing sessions of written rough drafts (a positive). Bloggers and vloggers shared their links and the rest of the students in the class and even the larger school community were encouraged to reflect and comment (also a positive). Grade: A.

Are there opportunities to broaden the perspective of the conversation with authentic audiences from around the world? In keeping a spending journal and reflecting on spending habits versus the spending habits of impoverished peoples, my students were asked to record their thoughts in a Word doc, in an online blog, or via a YouTube channel (a positive). For those students who wished to blog or vlog, I helped them set up Blogger and YouTube accounts. About half of my students chose this option. Through weekly school bulletins, members of the school community were made aware of my students’ blogs and vlogs and so could follow along and even comment. Grade: A/B.

Is there an opportunity for students to create a contribution (purposeful work)? Although the work asked of students was authentic, there was no community component to it (a big negative). During that month, we could have visited a community shelter or food bank. At some point during the month, we could have volunteered in the community. We could have investigated sources of local poverty and/or had community leaders come in to speak. I note that I/we missed a lot of opportunities here. Grade: D/F.

Does the assignment demo “best in the world” examples of content and skill? At the time, a few individuals and groups had published their own “$2 a day challenges,” and we did examine some of these blogs and vlogs (a positive). We missed the opportunity to view and discuss, in general, what elements constituted an exemplary blog or vlog (a negative). Grade: C.

More full disclosure: at the time, I thought my lesson was pretty cool and so did my supervising admins. By its third year, the challenge had become something of a campus-wide rite of passage, and our class “journey” even once made the local evening news. Back then, I would have given myself an A in terms of innovation.

In using Alan’s benchmark, I ended up with two As, two Cs, a D, and an F; a far cry from an A.

Like I said at the beginning of this blog, Alan’s work is thought-provoking. It’s one of the reasons I follow him on social media and read most of what he has written. He urges me to think, and his ideas cause me to reflect upon my own practices. In this particular case, Alan’s work has prompted me to reconsider what exactly constitutes academic excellence and exemplary technology integration. Years ago, I thought I had achieved a degree of pre-eminence. Now with the gift of hindsight, less hubris, and a more thorough benchmark, I see that my lesson wasn’t even all that “good,” let alone “great.”

There’s always work to be done. Every course is a work in progress.


Kyle Purpura is an Instructional Designer and Trainer for Christian Brothers University’s Center for Digital Instruction. He holds an Educational Technology Master’s Degree from Boise State University and has served as a technology trainer and content developer in higher education overseas, as well as a high school administrator.