Resources to Build Effective Online Learner Support Services

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To support the guidelines and themes of How to Build Effective Online Learner Support Services which outlines the goals, services, and processes for introducing services for online learners, listed below are descriptions of and links to guides to development and good practice, case studies of institutional change, and some examples of individual services offered using technology in innovative ways:

Guides to Development of Online Services and Good Practices

Beyond the Administrative Core: Creating Web-based Student Services for Online Learners – This valuable web-based resource is part of the Western Cooperative for Educational Telecommunications (WCET) Learning Anytime Anyplace Partnership (LAAP) program.  It draws on experience and examples from a broad range of American postsecondary institutions. The resulting good practices web page includes a series of documents that provide extensive guidelines for planning and development of online student services. Detailed steps in strategic planning and implementation as well as lessons learned by institutions that have made the transition are featured.

Online Student Support Services: A Best Practices Monograph - This open online publication provides strategies and best practices to help institutions who are making the transition to online learner support services. The practices described were developed by community college student services professionals who share a variety of effective uses of staff, technology and processes designed to increase online learner success. The monograph is presented as a well organized website that makes it easy to find practices applied to specific services.

Student Services in Community and Technical Colleges: A Practitioner’s Guide – This best practices guide is published by Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges which is responsible for administering the Community and Technical College Act and providing leadership and coordination for Washington's public system of 34 community and technical colleges. The guide covers all facets of student services provision including a special section on best practices for a wide range online student services as well as links to examples and other helpful resources.

Case Studies: Institutional Transformation

Beyond Face-to-Face: One Institution's Journey to Develop Online Student Services and Ways to Get Started – This article is by Susan Smith, Online Services Developer at Weber State University, a campus-based four year institution that also offers online programs and courses. She describes in some detail her institution’s transition to offering online services for their students including the rationale, services offered, steps taken and lessons learned. The article was published in Student Affairs on-line in 2001.

Implementing the Web of Student Services – This article by Janet Kendall, Director of Distance Degree Programs at Washington State University, addresses each of the suites of services in the WCET model, describing how each of these was used as a benchmark to guide development of specific online services at WSU.

Transforming Student Services – This EDUCAUSE QUARTERLY journal article (Number 2, 2000) addresses transformations taking place student support services and provides a case study describing how the University of Minnesota, a publicly funded campus-based research intensive university with 65,000 students, completely re-evaluated their student services operations to take best advantage of new technologies and improve service for all students through automation and re-deployment and re-training of staff.

University of Maryland University College: Institutional Models and Concepts of Student Support – In this book chapter (pp. 273-281, 2004), Nick Allen, past Provost and Chief Academic Officer of UMUC, discusses the critical decisions taken in his institution that resulted in it being a leader in online education. He focuses on the UMUC model of student support, discussing the steps taken in planning and implementing online learning on a large scale, and addresses concepts of quality, mass customization, assessment and measurement, and cost management.

Examples of Innovative Applications of Technology to Specific Services

Interactive Academic Advising – This article with accompanying demonstration video describes an interactive academic advising services offered by the Open University of Hong Kong. The online system uses an animated character with natural language capabilities as the human face for an ontology-based information retrieval engine, a guided search engine, and a mathematical optimization solver to provide relevant responses to both routine and more complex advising questions about career paths and program choice.

Online Advising – This article from the EDUCAUSE Research Bulletin describes a number of successful online advising initiatives and provides a step by step guide for institutions that are contemplating the application of technology to student services. The initiatives described reflect the priorities of the institution where they reside, each addressing different facets of academic advising: assisting new undergraduates with academic program planning, sound financial planning, academic planning involving credit transfer, career and life planning, and information provision (requirements, procedures, equivalencies,or deadlines). In each case, the focus is two pronged: using technology to make services more accessible and furthering the goals of student development by providing learners with tools and information that will help them to become more self-reliant.

Time Management Video Tutorial – The Time Management Web Shop is a 15 minute interactive slide/voice self-help tutorial designed to help students to develop time management skills. It is a good example of how an effective self-help tool for students can be developed using fairly simple technology. The tutorial can be embedded in an online course. Students report that they find the tutorial very useful in developing ways to better manage their time.

Research Skills TutorialThe Secrets of My Research Success is a 35 minute interactive tutorial that helps students to master the basic skills of library research. Developed by librarians at University of Maryland University College (UMUC) in 2009, it introduces the research process via Quentin, a fictional UMUC student who works for a film studio that is undergoing a corporate takeover. The tutorial follows Quentin as he learns how to locate background information on his topic with select search terms, create a search statement, choose appropriate databases to search, evaluate articles and Web sites and properly cite his sources. Each of the tutorial modules includes opportunities for learning reinforcement via interactive learning activities. There is also a final assessment quiz to test students on the material covered. Library tracking shows that the tutorial usage rates are high, and both undergraduate and graduate students give very positive feedback on the tutorial as helping them to feel more confident in their research, information literacy, and writing skills.

Other Resources

The Journal of Technology in Student Affairs – This U.S. based online resource for student services professionals (formerly called Student Affairs on-line) is a non-peer reviewed journal format with contributions from practitioners. It provides a forum for exchange of ideas and case studies from practice. A wide range of examples where technology has been applied effectively to student services have been covered and an archive of all past issues of the journal dating back to the first one in Spring 2000 are available free online. A current topic is use of social media.

Student Affairs and Technology – Eric Stoller, a consultant with a background in student affairs, writes this blog for INSIDE HIGHER ED, focusing on technology applications to post-secondary student services. He advocates the adoption of technologies such as social media to engage with students and colleagues, and addresses both current practice and broader implications of technology use in student services.