Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus

Curtis Franklin Jr., Executive Editor | 3/16/2012 | 28 comments

Curtis Franklin Jr.
When you look at building up the educational infrastructure to support online students, it's easy to become so focused on the problems of simply delivering course materials in an effective manner that you lose sight of supporting the people who support the students. On the one hand, this is understandable, given online education's focus on results. On the other hand, trying to pretend that online students need none of the support traditional students take for granted can be very short-sighted.

At Inside Higher Education, Eric Stoller has written an interesting article, "Supporting Online Students: New Paradigms for an Evolving Profession." In it, he talks about the importance of changing the way institutions look at the task of supporting online students -- and at the relatively few schools that are actually doing anything about making that change.

Let's admit right now that larger universities and colleges (and, to be honest, universities and schools of any size) can be remarkably resistant to change. It can take years to make the most modest changes. Figuring out how to support students who never set foot on campus can be the work of an entire career (though we really don't have that long to figure things out if schools are going to continue to be relevant to a rapidly-changing economy and society).

How will Student Affairs offices adapt themselves to help students who may be hundreds of miles from the office? At the large university in the town where I live, Student Affairs devotes a great deal of effort to issues like dorm living, relationships between students, on-campus activities, and career counseling. Which of these could safely be ignored, and which should be dramatically strengthened, in a distance-learning orientation for student affairs? Or is even this set of questions too tied to the past: Do we need to re-think the notion of student affairs entirely, separating it completely from its residential campus roots?

I think there's a strong case to be made for totally revising the concept of student affairs to meet the needs of modern distance students. The first principle in all this revision, though, should be that online students have a different need for support -- not a lesser need. Universities that view the rise of distance-learning as an opportunity to increase revenue while cutting student support to an absolute minimum are doomed to long-term failure. While there are certainly cost-savings to be had in physical-plant infrastructure, those institutions that best adapt to and support every member of their learning community, whether local or distant, will prosper.

Looking for a model? You could do a lot worse than Southern New Hampshire University. Fast Company named the university one of its 50 Most Innovative Companies -- the only educational institution so honored. Why aren't more universities racing to be more innovative? That may be the most fundamental question of all.

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nimanthad   Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus   3/24/2012 12:46:44 AM
Re: Ice-breakers for old perceptions
Yes you are right. You need to be able to manage your time poperly as well as should focus alot becasue this is simply self leaning and if you do not have the courage to do so, you will harm yourself not anyone else.
maou_villlaflores   Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus   3/21/2012 8:51:29 PM
Re: Ice-breakers for old perceptions
I attended an online university for my masters degree. Yes, you are right maturity of the students is important for this type of learning environment. I dont encourage this virtual campus for students who cant manage their time.
WaqasAltaf   Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus   3/20/2012 10:29:29 AM
Re: Ice-breakers for old perceptions
"Distance learning depends much more heavily than traditional classes on the student being -- and remaining -- motivated to do the work."

@ Curtis

The self-motivation factor is usually there at professional student level. An academic student might not be as focused on studies if he were to attend online lectures. Maturity, the desire to grow and understanding the importance of education, in most cases, comes at the age when the student enters professional education. Some might disagree with my point of view though.
impactnow   Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus   3/19/2012 10:41:10 PM
online chnages the experience

Students have changed and the world has changed because of technology, unfortunately higher education is still resisting the online world to its detriment. I don't know that student affairs needs to morph but maybe universities should consider other groups that make sense for online students that want to build camaraderie, where students in specific locations can arrange meet ups study groups etc. if they so desire. However I think we need to change our traditional perceptions of the college experience it was different for those who commuted, those who dormed and those who lived off campus—now it's just different for those get their degrees online.

CurtisFranklin   Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus   3/19/2012 9:16:31 PM
Re: a mystery to me...
@Sara, I'm not sure I've seen those needs spelled out in details -- but I'll be I know someone who has. I think I've just had another idea on a CIO to approach for an interview...
CurtisFranklin   Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus   3/19/2012 9:15:34 PM
Re: Ice-breakers for old perceptions
@Andrew, the self-motivation component is critical. Distance learning depends much more heavily than traditional classes on the student being -- and remaining -- motivated to do the work. I'm not sure that any amount of student support can provide this in the absence of on-campus peer pressure and regular face-to-face meetings with faculty.
CurtisFranklin   Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus   3/19/2012 9:14:05 PM
Re: Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus
@geeky, I think these developments are very good for instruction -- whether they're good for education (in the classic sense) is an open question, but they absolutely do have value for many students. That value will only increase if the schools manage to get the student support functions right.
CurtisFranklin   Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus   3/19/2012 9:12:27 PM
Re: Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus
@Gigi, you're right: The quality (and quantity) of the interaction between student and instructor is critical. Schools that want to succeed in distance education must provide the opportunity and infrastructure for these interactions and find ways to convince the instructors that these interactions are a key component of their jobs.
CurtisFranklin   Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus   3/19/2012 9:10:55 PM
Re: Ice-breakers for old perceptions
@WaqasAltaf wrote:

As far as the fundamental schooling is concerned, even I am not a fan of online education. The main idea of that type of schooling is to polish student's overall personality and by student remaining off-campus, he can never achieve that.  

It sounds like you and I were educated in similar systems. I attended a classic "liberal arts" school and earned a B.A. I feel that one of the primary goals of such an education is to help the student become an educated citizen, prepared to take part in civilization and in a profession.

Unfortunately, with the cost of an education becoming so great in the U.S., many people feel that the result must be a degree that leads directly to a high-paying career. There's little room in this philosophy for the sort of "polish" you speak of, and that I value. I fear we're losing something important, but I can certainly understand the reason people are feeling this way.
CurtisFranklin   Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus   3/19/2012 9:07:20 PM
Re: Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus
@Henrisha, it's interesting to see your experience. My son had a similar experience when he went for a campus visit for a state college -- it seemed that the staff was willing to show him where to pay for things, but unwilling to provide any real guidance. I suspect we're going to see this attitude change as the population of college-aged students decline and people begin to demand more services for the very high cost of attending university. I just hope that those who attend via distance technology get as much support as those who attend physical campuses.
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