Keeping The Conversation Going – Online Student Services and Learning

Online education is a hot topic in higher education today. The relationship between the teacher and students and the manner how learning happens are being redefined by technology. Through technology, teachers and students no longer have to be  physically present in same classroom at the same time.  Another area of the campus facing the same issue is student affairs. One question being asked is how effective are online  student services relative to  face-to-face interactions.  This article on StudentAffairs.com in 2000 shows the issue of  technology and student services is nothing new.  As the article states, “the high-touch culture that has been the bedrock of student development practice for decades will be impacted by the advancement of technology both inside and outside the classroom.”

My view as a technologist in student affairs, one who has been a part of business system conversion projects  in the last 17 years at UC Santa Barbara, is that technology is already an integral component of student affairs.  Technology is an expected component in all  competency areas defined in ACPA and NASPA Professional Competency Areas for Student Affairs Practitioners.

As student affairs professionals, we need to be engaged in discussions of how we use technology and how we can effectively provide online services to students. The reality is not all students reside on campus. Some of them will never set foot on campus. Going further, even students who live on campus are using online services throughout their life cyle from paying their bills, registering for classes, checking their academic progress,  making appointments, and gathering information about campus services.  In our roles as educators, we need to be aware of the opportunities as well as problems associated with the use of technology, including physical issues such as lack of sleep because of Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) and  social development issues related to online relationships among other issues.

How we can effectively debate and explore the current and future use of technology and online services in student affairs depends on how open we are to the possibilities.  I was in a communication workshop this morning and the instructor said something applicable to this topic. He said “we don’t know what we can’t get to if we reject the premise.”   We all have values and beliefs on how we should serve our students shaped by our own personal experiences.  Even with our own biases,  we need to have open minds. Given the speed at which technology changes, we may have some ideas on emerging technologies in higher education in the next few years but we really don’t know the impact and use of these technologies until we use them.

Eric Stoller, student affairs and technology blogger  for InsideHighered.com recently wrote about the schism between online students and student affairs.  Personally, I think the best way to explore how online learning, including flipped classroom model,  works is to try it in student affairs ourselves. I posed this question on twitter recently:

twitter_anyone_using_flipped_classroom

Steven Yeagley (@stevenyeagley), a student affairs professional from Southern Illinois University responded to my tweet and wrote they his university has used this model for Resident Assistant Training. He  shared the details in this blog post RA Training in the Flipped Classroom: Introduction. In addition to RA trainings, here are few  ideas I have heard from colleagues on how we can use online learning in student affairs:

  • MOOC for First Year Experience (FYE) courses for transfer and freshmen.
  • Use of videos,  internal social networks for employee onboarding.
  • Online orientation for graduate (and undergraduate students).
  • Online alcohol education.

When it comes to technology in student affairs, the question should not be whether we should use it but rather how can we effectively use it to promote student success?

3 thoughts on “Keeping The Conversation Going – Online Student Services and Learning

  1. Kevin R. Guidry

    I think that moving an FYE course online would be a terrible idea for most institutions. It would be an excellent idea to have one or two sessions of an FYE course online to ensure students are introduced to the institution’s online environment(s) but I strongly believe that much of the socialization and interaction that is essential for successful FYE courses is best done in person when at all possible. My thoughts aren’t fully formed on why I so strongly believe this but I think it has a lot to do with immersion and personal contact that are both critical to helping students make connections with faculty and their peers in an environment where it’s safe to ask questions and seek guidance.

    Although I acknowledge their sway and importance, finances and convenience should not be the (only) drivers for considerations such as these. The primary purpose of the activity must be central in these decisions. For example, I’m currently working with some faculty who have “flipped” their classroom. They have done so not because it’s convenient, easier, or cheaper but because it allows them spend more time with their students working with the course material and concepts instead of spending time talking at their students or introducing material to them. That’s incredibly important because people learn best by doing, not by listening, reading, or memorizing. By having their students spend time online first learning about course concepts and work with the ideas in class they are better able to achieve their primary purpose which is to help students learn. That is the kind of thinking that should inform any similar decisions: Will this new technology/pedagogy enhance (or at least not detract from) the purpose of the activity? (Of course that leads directly to asking: How do you know that? And that requires you to have well-defined outcomes and measures. It’s all related !)

    Reply
    1. Joe Sabado Post author

      Kevin,

      This is exactly the conversation I’m seeking! I’m exploring these issues and so it helps to get other folks’ perspectives. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your view. I am in 100% agreement with the points you made. I am a discussion leader for a Transfers FYE course now and I witness the value of the face-to-face interactions as our quarters progressed.

      I also agree that finance and convenience should not be the primary drivers behind these decisions. I’ve always maintained technology should be used in the context of our purpose, one of which is learning. Specifically with flipped classroom, I see the value of this when it comes to RA, peer trainings because of the issues/topics they need to learn (team building, conflict resolution, sensitivity training, …) requiring a lot of interactions. From my experience leading these trainings, it would be nice to not have to spend much of time having to explain concepts in class so we can devote more time processing situational exercises.

      How do measure the effectiveness/learning outcomes? That’s a great question that should be applied all across what we do on campus.

      Thanks!
      Joe

      Reply
    2. Joe Sabado

      Kevin,

      This is exactly the conversation I’m seeking! I’m exploring these issues and so it helps to get other folks’ perspectives. Thank you so much for taking the time to share your view. I am in 100% agreement with the points you made. I am a discussion leader for a Transfers FYE course now and I witness the value of the face-to-face interactions as our quarters progressed.

      I also agree that finance and convenience should not be the primary drivers behind these decisions. I’ve always maintained technology should be used in the context of our purpose, one of which is learning. Specifically with flipped classroom, I see the value of this when it comes to RA, peer trainings because of the issues/topics they need to learn (team building, conflict resolution, sensitivity training, …) requiring a lot of interactions. From my experience leading these trainings, it would be nice to not have to spend much of time having to explain concepts in class so we can devote more time processing situational exercises.

      How do measure the effectiveness/learning outcomes? That’s a great question that should be applied all across what we do on campus.

      Thanks!
      Joe

      Reply

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