Engagement and Experience Should Be Top Of Mind When Shopping For New ToolsRobert Rosenbalm | Managing Director, National University Technology Network
It seems the world of online education is full of noise. New buzzwords spin everyday, fancier gadgets come out weekly, competing platforms bombard marketing channels and rapidly changing student demographics keep everyone guessing.
While there may be no way to find a true north in all of this, there are tools available to college and distance learning administrators to aid in keeping the proverbial ship on the right course.
The most significant of these is access to data and analytics. These should be available from both institutional research and information technology departments. It’s easy to simply make decisions based on assumptions about student needs and behaviors that just don’t hold up with analytics. I think we’ve all been in a meeting recently where we, or someone, make broad assumptions about students having or not having access. We assume students are still accessing online courses through desktop and laptop computers when, according to an April 25, 2015, report from the Pew Trust, two thirds of Americans have a smartphone and an increasing number do not have broadband access at home.
Moreover, higher education institutions have historically made it very difficult for students to pay tuition and fees. We have always expected students to make payments around our schedules and processes. Looking at data regarding access times of your institution’s learning management system might show increasing numbers of students working on their online classes after work, late at night and on weekends. Using data like this to guide staffing times and schedule needed system downtime brings us to where the students are instead of the other way around. With so many options for training and education, this may go longer than a cool slogan or commercial in making an institution more desirable to non-traditional or working students.
The second tool must be one that supports student services and needs. There are a number of things that work here—technical support for an LMS, online tutoring services, virtual office hours or on-demand content.
The same data that tells us about access patterns for students should also tell us a bit about their other needs. A dispersed online student body can’t be expected to come to campus for office hours, tutoring and other services. There will be a number of students who are taking online classes to augment their on-campus experience. These students can make use of traditional student service avenues. It is imperative that an institution has systems and processes in place to assist the student who can’t or won’t come to campus. These may be more critical to retention and completion than the online classroom experience. As online students are often struggling to balance education and the real world, practices such as invasive advising may be necessary.
Finally, a product tailored to student authentication may help provide peace of mind to both students and employers regarding an online program or degree’s integrity. With so much media coverage of data breaches and the recent diploma mill in Pakistan, technology beyond a login and password to verify student identification for coursework and assessments is more critical than ever.
There are a number of products that use technology, such as cameras or biometric measurements, to ensure the person doing coursework or taking assessments is, in fact, the person registered for the class. This only works to strengthen the reputation and integrity of the program, which, in the end, has a positive impact on the perception of its graduates.
There are many specific resources and products to aid in any of the items above. It’s up to each organization to find the solution, whether internal or external, that best serves their students and community.