Monday, 14 February 2022

Online student engagement solutions

In my last post, here, I discussed having attended an online training session hosted the Tertiary Education Commission to help us better engage online learners during Covid-19 (2020). The work of Dr Cathy Stone which resonated most with me, particularly the online learner cycle that her research formalised, looking into online learner decision-making and likely 'crisis' points. However, Dr Stone went on to discuss what we can do to avert those crisis points with some timely interventions

She described in the presentation the following solutions for the crises in the image accompanying this post:

We can "think about the type of support we could be offering based on the results of research and to begin with" (Tertiary Education Commission, 2020, 16:52).

..."in this beginning phase, this thinking about study, this enrolling, this making or consolidating a commitment. We can be offering accurate and timely information. Student advisers can be on the other end of the phone taking an individual approach rather than a one size fits all approach, talking about their circumstances, their commitments, their priorities, so that they're not encouraged to take a full time load, for instance, when they're not working because they may have two or three children they're looking after at home. So very much that individual approach.

"Preparatory courses could be offered if it's a student who is academically inexperienced what preparatory courses might they want to do when they're getting ready for study. 

"In the next phase the institution can be providing out-reach contact, through phone calls or emails or SMS messages. [Or a] mixture of all. Preparatory courses again could be offered or they could be referred to where they could go to get some preliminary academic experience.

"At that beginning stage the transition phase, the waiting to start through to transition. Again, just that regular contact, phone contact, email, SMS updates, social media, to keep them connected and to feel that sense of belonging to this institution. And of course orientation, that online orientation I talked about before, possibly even looking at ways to deliver it face to face.

"Then throughout the semester there can be an intervention strategy just checking in through outreach calls, inbound calls, a number that they can phone where they can get help if they need it. Live chat, webinars, peer mentoring can be very, very important for online students. Linking them up with a student who is academically more experienced than they are, teaching and learning support, absolutely vital throughout this throughout the study period, throughout the whole time of their studying, that strong teacher presence.

"Embedded support such as learning support [can be] embedded in the early units within the curriculum. And, of course, online tutorial and learning support that could be outside of the curriculum but clearly highlighted or mention made of it in their course content so they know where to go to get that extra support.

"Similarly, other personal support and equity services which are offered out of hours and via remote access, to make it easy for them to reach out for that help when they need it, live chat, phone video conferencing" (Tertiary Education Commission, 2020, 19:45).

While all of these potential solutions to exit points, or opportunities for engagement, cost us, we can see that once elements are established, they allows us to maintain our student 'call-cycle'. I personally check in on any 'slow' engagers each week, sending out an "are you OK" email so I can intervene earlier, and hopefully better identify and dismantle barriers. My aim is to either keep students onboard, or to bid them farewell until their circumstances improve: a haere ra is much more powerful than a goodbye. 

I hope these two posts have provided some useful ideas. 



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