The Current State of Support for Our Fully Online Students
If you haven’t done so already, take the time to pretend you are a fully online student and try to navigate the many tasks that students need to do on a regular basis. What do you find? Are the services available to our online population equitable to those that are available on-ground at their college campus? What is the web presence like of your college’s critical student services? Which students are utilizing the services and which students are not and why? These are the many questions that we must ask when evaluating our distance education programs. On my campus, online course offerings are the first to fill but in turn, they have inferior success rates than our on-ground courses. Many times these students find themselves staring at a closed door looking for support that is limited.
What Online Support Should Look Like
Online support should be equitable to services offered in person. As an example, on my campus, we have a financial aid lab for students to get help with their FAFSA or navigating their online financial aid portal. Is this same support available to our online student population? If not, how can we provide this resource to our online student population? Maybe the solution involves leveraging the staff that currently work in the financial aid lab but have them utilize Cranium Café to offer the same services remotely. Additionally, we offer many workshops on all topics on campus but nothing online except for the orientation. What if we recorded all of our workshops and made them available online? Or better yet provide a distance option for students to participate remotely with our students that are on-ground.
Online Support Supports All Students
Online Mental Health (MH) services provide anonymity, creating a safe environment to receive services. Once a student has participated in MH services online they may be more likely to reach out for additional support in person. In addition to MH services, other support services like tutoring, other health center services, special resource center or other services may have a stigma attached to them and preclude students from seeking help in person where they may feel comfort in reaching out online.
This means providing the tools and support services for all of our students regardless of their background or how they are taking their courses. Online students must also be included in all of our equity conversations.
With all the buzz around Guided Pathways, how are we implementing the concepts of the 4 pillars for our online students? Online students also need to be able to enter the path easily, have clarity in their path, have the support to stay on their path and to also ensure their learning on the path.