Guest post – DigiLearn: Induction for online students
Author: Hazel Partington – Senior Lecturer (School of Community Health and Midwifery)
I am course leader for MSc Sustainability, Health and Wellbeing, which is delivered wholly online. I have been working on similar online MSc courses 12 years. I was very lucky to join a teaching team who were fully committed to giving students a great experience of online learning. The teaching team on these courses believe that induction processes are key factors in providing a great learning experience. Induction is a crucial time in a student’s university life and can make a big difference to how they experience the course and sometimes whether they continue on the course.
Whether students are studying online or in the more traditional campus-based setting, they all need opportunities to: orientate themselves with their learning environment; get to know their tutors and fellow students; and build confidence in themselves as learners. In terms of orientation to the learning environment, we must recognise that students’ levels of comfort and familiarity with Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) will vary. Since the inception of our online courses, the course team have taken care to provide a detailed induction/welcome package which guides students through a series of tasks designed to orientate them to the UCLan systems, and to help build their confidence in navigating the VLE. We ask them to send an email from their UCLan outlook account; book a skype call with a tutor; meet a tutor in an Adobe Connect room and to send a brief informal biography and j-peg photo of themselves. This is loaded into a dedicated ‘Getting to know each other’ folder in a course Common Room space on Blackboard. I suggest that this would also be useful for students on traditional attendance courses and help in those early days of terms when students (and tutors!) may feel overwhelmed trying to remember the names of all the new people they have met.
Tutors on e-learning courses hold much more responsibility for social introductions and the development of socialisation between students than those in more traditional learning environments where students can get to know each other and chat outside of lectures. We suggest that our students meet up in small groups to support each other outside of scheduled sessions, and make sure that they know they can use Skype or the Adobe Connect Rooms to meet up. Increasingly we also see students using social media such as Facebook, WhatsApp and other platforms to keep in touch and provide peer support.
Our induction package for 2018-19 will include the use of Microsoft Teams as we feel that his offers a lot of scope for communication and collaboration. I hope that this brief insight into our induction processes for online learners might be helpful to colleagues across the University whether by teaching traditional face-to face, blended learning or online delivery. Our team are always happy to chat to others and share ideas with who are interested in online learning.