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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Syerita Turner   Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus   3/27/2012 3:32:07 PM
Re: building student relationships in a Virtual Campus
I agree. Well put. If we build upon these ideals then we will be fine as an online education medium.
syedzunair   Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus   3/27/2012 1:31:36 AM
building student relationships in a Virtual Campus
However, there is one pre-requisite in online learning: Patience.

Both the students and instructors have to accept that they can not minimize errors to zero despite their relentless efforts. At the end of the day there will be problems. And if classmates share  a healthy relationship, then they can provide a kind of assistance that IT can not.
syedzunair   Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus   3/27/2012 1:25:51 AM
building student relationships in a Virtual Campus
Speaking from experience, a few possible steps that can help build student relationships in Virtual Campuses can be:

1. Group or team based assignments can be given. Team members can change after each assignment so that each individual gets to know the enitre class.

2. Stay connected! Be it facebook, Google+, skype, etc. Have individual or group conferences. 

3. Inculcate shared responsibility to impart knowledge. There can be role reversals where students are asked to research and explain a particular topic. 
syedzunair   Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus   3/27/2012 1:14:57 AM
Re: Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus
@ Syerita.. I agree that planning can make a huge difference. I've taken a few courses online. We were given an LMS to share data, files, videos and to chat with all classmates and instructors. The onus lies on the instructors to make the first move to build relationships. We also have individual blogs and teachers started off by posting colorful introductions of themselves and then the class followed suit. Despite all classmates being scattered all around the world, we are well acquainted with each other.
Syerita Turner   Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus   3/26/2012 6:33:49 PM
Re: Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus
I agree that it can become frustrating when you don't understand how the virtual system works. I think that it all can be alleviated with proper planning and control and a complete understanding from the student how it is to work.

It is always a work in progress but many schools are understanding it better now and working towards making it a better experience from the student perspective.
The_Phil   Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus   3/25/2012 11:33:59 AM
Re: Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus
It sounds like the online experience was not properly walked through from the user perspective. There has to be some feedback from the people using the system to confirm that it's as simplified a process as possible. You can only imagine the frustration experienced by folks doing online learning and have issues getting through the site.
geeky   Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus   3/25/2012 11:23:21 AM
Re: Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus
This will be more valuable for those who does not have that much of time to spend but that does not mean you cant neglect it because time management in this vital.
Syerita Turner   Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus   3/24/2012 11:09:44 AM
Re: Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus
Great post. I can speak on this topic because I lived it. I received both degrees online at AIU. I absolutely loved the fact that they had so much student interaction through a wonderful student affairs section of the online environment. There were clubs that one could join as well as career counseling and student counseling if needed. I made friends through their version of a social media site. It was unbelievable to see that I actually knew people at the ground graduation that I had been going to class with on a consistent basis and it was like I had been inside the classroom with them all along. I believe that more universities need to place an emphasis on this because it is a part of education. People need that interaction with other individuals who are on the same path as they are. 
geeky   Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus   3/24/2012 6:28:23 AM
Re: Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus
Well I see a lot of pomise for students with this feature or facility. True that you need the fullest support from the students end to get things up and running.
nimanthad   Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus   3/24/2012 12:48:17 AM
Re: Student Affairs on the Virtual Campus
Yes things should be updated quickly and a good moderation is needed too.
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