The impact of the global pandemic has required institutions across the country to send students home and move residential courses to online delivery. This abrupt migration to online learning is an enormous challenge for residential faculty, students and staff who have limited exposure, if any, to the online environment and supporting technologies.
In our role as learning technologists, we must focus on providing faculty, students and staff with as much support as possible in order to make this rapid shift to online delivery as successful as it can be. We’ve identified some specific ways you can achieve this.
4 ways to provide learning technology support
The next few weeks will inevitably be challenging for students and faculty alike. But there are some things you can do to help ease concerns related to learning technology. Consider the following actions:
1. Develop comprehensive orientations for students and faculty
The residential population is new to the online world and will need orientation and instruction in order to be successful. The time you invest in building a set of orientation resources up front will be worth it. If students and faculty can use these materials to find answers to their questions, they won’t be reaching out with questions that will further stress your support system.
You should develop a multi-pronged, multi-modality orientation strategy that includes synchronous and asynchronous events, online content, videos, downloadable cheat sheets and even in-person workshops if appropriate. Don’t assume that today’s “digitally native” students will automatically adapt to the online learning environment. Today’s students may spend a lot of time online, but they still aren’t familiar with a learning management system (LMS).
Further, the stakes are much higher for students, as they are trying to perform well in their classes on their way to earning a degree. Not to mention the collective apprehension people are feeling right now in these uncertain times. These factors will lead to more nervousness, more problems with the technology and ultimately more need for support.
2. Give faculty a head start in the LMS
It is fair to say that this transition to online learning will be hardest on the faculty, as they must immediately modify their content, assessments and teaching practice to fit the new delivery modality. One of the biggest challenges faculty will face is figuring out what to do with that empty course shell in the LMS.
Here are some actions you can take to help:
- Work with your academic team to create a standard course shell that provides a pre-made template for faculty as a starting point. Not only will a template shell make it easier for faculty, it will help provide some consistency to the online experience for students as they navigate their classes.
- If your institution has an online version of a specific course, consider giving the residential faculty member a copy of the online version.
- As a rule, pre-populate the course shell with as much content as you can. It is always easier for an inexperienced faculty member to delete the content they don’t want than to insert new content into the course shell.
3. Create a faculty support community
Regardless of the discipline, your faculty will face a common set of challenges when trying to migrate their courses online. You can take advantage of the collaborative nature of faculty by creating a community where faculty can offer support, advice and encouragement to each other.
This community may exist in the LMS, in an employee portal or in a collaborative application like Microsoft Teams or Office 365, but the tool you choose does not really matter. What is important is that you’re cultivating a safe and vibrant community where faculty can ask for and receive help from their colleagues.
4. Deliver 24×7 user support
The most critical support you can provide students, faculty and staff is 24×7 availability. When students and faculty reach out for help it is typically because they are stuck and can’t move forward, and in the asynchronous world of online learning, that can occur at any time of day. The level of apprehension and frustration from your student and faculty population will be much lower if they know they have access to help whenever they need it.
Many institutions simply won’t have the resources to provide 24×7 support. If that is the case, just aim to be as close to 24×7 as you can. If providing around-the-clock support is not a viable option, it is better to offer support seven days a week for limited hours, rather than 24 hours a day for fewer days per week.
Support your students and staff
This is a challenging time for everyone at the institution. As learning technologists, this is a great opportunity for us to have a major impact on the success of students and faculty. Commit to doing everything possible to make the technology part of the solution, not part of the problem.