Friday, November 27

How to offer the full ‘college experience’ online

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Dawn DiPeri

by Dawn DiPeri

Here is our curated list of suggestions to help traditional universities offer some of the components of a ground-campus experience online.

August is typically an exciting time for both the college and the student. Prior to COVID, it was fairly typical to see large-scale orientations, events and parties on campus. College sports kicked off and students everywhere could be seen tailgating and enjoying the games. Dorm life was full of the hustle and bustle of moving in, meeting roommates, and tearful goodbyes. This year college students are choosing not to say goodbye to their parents, and commuter students are opting for a full load of online courses. But many wonder what other kinds of offerings the college will have. 

Topics:

  • Student Activities
  • College and Career
  • Fall Prep
  • Health and wellness

Student activities

There is no doubt that a personalized online education may be the way of the future. But students may not be willing to give up the campus experience, which entails university pride and meeting lifelong friends (Kirwin, 2020). I argue that students do not have to give this up and can have a full college experience even in the online format. Colleges will continue to solicit students to join campus activities and participate in various causes from remote locations all around the world.

Students don’t have to be anti-social when social distancing. They can use virtual meetup tools such as Zoom, Google Meet, Jitsi, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, and Slack. Study groups can absolutely happen. And the relationships students build in online classes can extend into an online learning community that fosters long-term friendships that transcend space and time. 

Many traditional on-campus activities can be enjoyed from home, including working for online publications such as art and literary magazines. Students can contribute art and writing from any location or work on collaborative projects centered on a variety of interests. Students can join a film club, host Netflix parties, and discuss the cinematography after each film. Netflix offers a new feature that allows multiple people from remote locations to watch movies together and group chat to share commentaries (Tandet, 2020). The University of Houston (UH) offers students a subscription to the online platform Kanopy,  to watch indie films and documentaries. UH also offers virtual open-mic nights and a link to virtual concerts though Billboard.com. Colleges everywhere are looking for ways to offer high-quality online programming that brings students together, builds learning communities, and creates lasting ties to the university. Some institutions are offering student government voting digitally through online voting and having their career days offered online as well. The University of Buffalo offers the following list of programs: Resume Writing, Storybuilding, Anne Frank Project, Safe Zone Training, Voting and Civic Engagement, and Leadership Workshops with student leaders from the student government association. Arizona State University Online has been a leader in online education for over a decade. Their robust online student services consist of  virtual meetings, success coaches, and an online student government.

Virtual-program options are limitless. Online groups can form in much of the same ways that on-campus ones do, and colleges are holding virtual student-activity fairs to help increase participation. Volunteering is one aspect of the college experience students often seek. Volunteering doesn’t have to stop just because colleges cannot provide a safe ground location. Universities can offer student activities and clubs for those interested in giving back. Students can tutor and mentor youth online, join an organization such as Big Brothers and Sisters, or use their skills and strengths to help others online. Students can offer to call or Zoom residents in a nursing home. Students can write letters to veterans overseas or create art for patients in hospitals who aren’t able to have visitors. Most colleges have university affiliates or hospitals close by and can work together to make this happen. 

College and Career

Colleges can take advantage of their alumni connections and reach out to see if they would be interested in helping current students through career networking. One way to do this online is to have alumni discuss their careers with students in a webinar format or via video chat. Alumni can screen-share and discuss a current or past project they are working on or show them the inside of their home office. Or alums can talk about the tools they use to keep on-task, and how they collaborate with teams. Alumni have a wealth of knowledge to share and their connections and resources can be highly valuable to the online student.

The college and career center can use this time to help students to develop their resume, provide workshops, speakers, and webinars to teach virtual interviewing skills and offer online career fairs. Universities have tapped into the tools and techniques available in the online modality by offering both one-on-one and group career- counseling services. Additionally, guest speakers are another valuable resource. They  can help students learn about specific job-search areas such as the types of employability skills and experiences required in their chosen field or industry.

Fall Prep

In an on-campus experience, students prepare for fall by purchasing their books, materials and campus-logo attire from their on-site bookstore. They set up their meal cards and scope out the library, fitness center, and student lounge locations. They seek  advice from current students on which instructor or class to take; they iron out their academic plan by sitting with their advisor; and they visit financial aid office to pay their tuition bill. None of these entities exist in fully online school, yet students still very much get their needs met. Online textbooks are embedded in the LMS. Registration is completed entirely online by the student and advisor over the phone and web. Bills are paid online, and meal plans obviously are an expense that can be skipped. When colleges create online virtual lounges, students can get the inside scoop from their peers on classes, instructors and  opinions on many topics, including which majors may be more suitable for them. 

Health and Wellness

Although fitness centers may be closed, students can join virtual gym classes and virtual running groups. They can choose to join an accountability group online for any diet or fitness topic of their choosing. The sky is the limit when it comes to health and wellness virtual programming. Some colleges offer free subscriptions to meditation and mindfulness apps such as Headspace to promote holistic health and wellness offerings. Additionally, college counselors can be available to offer confidential, secure online therapy for students experiencing anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues. 

Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was imperative that universities offer an array of health and wellness services and that those services should be provided 100% online. Universities can subscribe to telehealth services  for their students. Zoc Doc is a video-conferencing tool used in health and wellness. According to its website, Zoc Doc “video visits can address immediate medical issues or routine healthcare needs. Doctors are ready to treat a variety of issues or help you with prescriptions or referrals.” Another HIPAA-compliant company that offers telemedicine technology that school counselors and social workers can use is doxy.me which allows for a secure way to conduct therapy online. In addition, colleges should be providing students with suicide-prevention hotlines and other resources where they can go to seek help. Family life may be chaotic or unstable and many students used to seek the refuge of dorm life to escape their personal home situations. 

Colleges need to offer support to online students navigating the “new normal,” and to help them to seek the academic support they need. One online software is used by several institutions is Smarthinking Online Tutoring. Smarthinking is owned by the education giant Pearson and offers online tutoring to students in math, science, business, Spanish, technology, reading, and writing. Smarthinking is free to students, and live tutors can be accessed 24/7. Tutors use white-board technology to help students work out problems in real time. For longer assignments like essays, tutors can review papers and provide detailed feedback to be reviewed at a later date. Smarthinking can help support an already in-place tutoring center or it can be used in place of one. All sessions are entirely remote and convenient to access from any device at any time.

Conclusion

Just because students may choose to attend a fully online program this fall doesn’t mean they can’t have  a full college experience. If universities work hard to provide some of the same on-campus offerings online, students can benefit from the engagement and sense of community by building lasting friendships and making connections that can benefit them during their college years and in their careers. With a little careful planning and some great tech, universities in fact can provide some of the wonderful perks of an on-ground education.

References:

Kirwin, E. (2020, Jul 15). The online college experience – . University Wire Retrieved from https://proxy.cecybrary.com/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy.cecybrary.com/docview/2424359860?accountid=144459

Tandet, J. (2020, March 17). 53 Virtual Activity Ideas to Keep College Students Engaged During COVID-19: Blog: Presence. Retrieved August 1, 2020, from https://www.presence.io/blog/53-virtual-activity-ideas-to-keep-college-students-engaged-during-covid-19/

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