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Thursday, November 08, 2018

Online Student Services: What, Where, Who, When, How, and Most Importantly, Why | EDUCAUSE Review

Implementing student services for online students involves answering the basic, but nonetheless complex, questions of what, where, who, when, how, and why.

In 2002, I moved to academia after a career in the engineering industry. One of the questions I was asked in my interviews at the college was whether I could teach online, explains Kayla L. Westra, Dean of Institutional Effectiveness and Liberal Arts at the Minnesota West Community and Technical College.

Photo: PhotoAlto / Frederic Cirou / Getty Images © 2018
I had taught via distance learning in a fairly loose model, working with engineers and support staff across the globe in my role as a technical communications manager. To say I could teach online was a bit of a stretch, but I was not one to shy away from a challenge, and frankly, I really wanted this job.

I got the job. In those first semesters of my new position teaching English, the online student services we offered were growing, and we were trying to keep up with the demands of our students. In the early years of our distance learning initiatives, we instituted a cross-functional team that worked on streamlining processes and extending assistance to our online students, at a time when there were few out-of-house alternatives. We focused extensively on what our students needed, and we adjusted where we could and made workarounds wherever we could not change a process or policy. Now, sixteen years later, how we support online students has changed dramatically—mostly because we have continued to seek solutions that help our students succeed in their courses and obtain their career objectives.

As of 2016, over 6 million students are taking online courses each year, and over two-thirds of those courses are at public institutions.1 The numbers are stabilizing, after a fairly sharp rise before 2016. Part of the reason for the stabilization is that learning management systems and support structures have solidified and more colleges and universities have joined the online-offering arena. Online classes range from fairly independent study courses to robust, interactive courses, and from completely asynchronous courses to courses with some synchronous components. Some institutions have fully embraced online learning as another modality, whereas others have determined that this path does not meet their mission. While many colleges and universities are offering online student services to support their online learners, the types and levels of support vary widely. Accrediting bodies have been concerned with student services for online students for some time, and a very simple tenet to follow is that whatever student services are offered for on-campus students should be offered in an equitable fashion for online students. While this tenet may seem simple, its implementation can be complex and involved.

Source: EDUCAUSE Review

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