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. 




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