95: Upgrading Online Student Services at Florida Atlantic University w/ Dr. Victoria Brown

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Dr. Victoria Brown, Associate Professor, Former Assistant Provost for eLearning at Florida Atlantic University, joined the podcast to talk about the missional and enrollment growth importance of upgrading student services for the online learner.

As we were beginning to develop our two thousand and twenty five online education plan as a system, we wanted to make sure that the distance learning programs that we were producing Hagh quality and, within that, the quality components with students support services. You're listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education, the best professional development podcast for higher education leaders looking to grow enrollment at their college or university. Whether you're looking for fresh enrollment growth techniques and strategies or tools and resources, you've come to the right place. Let's get into the show. Welcome back to enrollment growth university, a proud member of the connect eedu podcast network. I'm Eric Olson with Helix Education and we're here today with Dr Victoria Brown, associate professor former assistant provost for e learning at Florida Atlantic University. Vicki, welcome to the show. Hello, how you doing today? I'm doing awesome. I'm so excited to talk with you today about the importance of upgrading student services for the online learner. Before we dig into that, Vickie, can you do the listeners a little bit better understanding of both Florida Atlantic and your will there well, at Florida Atlantic University. We are becoming known as one of the large regional institutions. We currently have four thousand students each semester taking courses only online and seventeen thousand students taking an online course. So as assistant provos there, I was instrumental in the growth of that pro the online and have just stepped back to faculty to handle some of the attention I'm getting with the online student support square card. Love, but yes, let's dive into that Vigie help paint us a picture of when adult online learners typically...

...do the majority of their academic work and what student services are typically available to them during those times at many institutions. Well, I kind of like to take a step back into history just a little bit as we approach this topic, because as we first started doing distance learning, for those of us who are old enough to remember, it was a website in an excel spreadsheet and discussion forums and in front page. So at that time it was very difficult to actually engage. Students were learning how to use the Internet and professors were learning how to teach online. So that combination led to an impression that online students, who are independent learners and they had to be independent learners in order to navigate the on line courses. Today is a very different picture. We actually have students from all types and learning styles, walks of life and cultural backgrounds taking our distance learning classes. So that perception from the very beginning that they were independent learners and not want necessarily wanting to reach out to receive support, has definitely changed. Today we have a variety of students who take our online classes. Most of the time they are working students or even single moms or moms were that are staying at home. So that means they're doing their work at different times during the day, and I'd like to remind people that online students really prefer to take classes facetoface, but for whatever reason, their life is something's going on in their life and they need to take the online courses. So they really are working during the day, whether it's taking care...

...of an elderly parent or possibly taking care of a child or actually holding down a job. And if they're in work situations, they may be in a situation where they are not able to use their mobile devices to call or contact and institution and may be against their work rules, and for that reason we really should have student support services available at the time they're engaging in those classes, whether it's in the evening or on weekends, or it could be if you're in a different country, even it could be in the middle of the night here in the United States. Yeah, really appreciate that background in historical context. So as the adult online student audience continues to grow, like it has at Florida Atlantic and other institutions, become such a critical part of our institutions overall enrollment growth, how important is it to increase the level of student services for this audience to be at least equitable with what are on campus students received? Yes, so I think there's three reasons you would want to begin looking at and making sure their services are equivalent. First is that again taking that look at that population. It's at your institution to determine what are the risk factors and are they working or who are they? Because those students actually are going to need a great deal of support, just like as the on campus student changed and their population and as we started more and more students started in rolling who might be at risk academically because maybe they were not as well prepared, maybe their first generation. All of those same issues come into play and these students. If we want to be want them to be successful, and I'm hoping that we're accepting them into our institutions because we know they can be successful, then we need to make sure they're getting the same support services...

...as a first generation student or an academically not as well prepared student or even a social economic disadvantage student that they would receive on campus. These students need to be successful and, for whatever reason, that success may be driving their improvement in their life and their work. So that's number one, and number two we have a higher number of high school students who are interested in pursuing degrees and in especially here in Florida, will have experience in distance learning, but not the distance learning experiences they may have had in high school may not have prepared them totally for being online at a university. So they may have had extra teachers in the class, they may have had a daily assignments that they were engaging with, and then a university those the standards are just a little different as you start engaging in your online courses. So those students again are maybe not as prepared to take an online class as much as they thought they might have been. So we want them to be very prepared as they go in. And also, I think we ought to keep in mind that, just as society in general, we are used to having those resources and information that we want at our fingertips literally at the time that we want them. And students become frustrated if soon as they engage in an issue and they can't get it resolved. And if we're off for this audience as we're thinking about higher ed and creasing our enrollment, imagine if you're trying to enroll a student or encourage them to go through the emission process and their encountering challenges in that process, they are going to give up. I move on to someone else who might be more interested in making sure that they can get through your enrollment processes. So I think it's very good to put our good foot forward...

...for our online students and making sure that we understand, show that we understand their needs, show that we understand what their concerns are as they come into a higher ed institution and then helping them get through that enrollment process. Love it. So you've convinced us from a missional standpoint. You've convinced us from an enrollment standpoint. Now help us get there. Can you give us a high level overview of this quality score card for online student support that you created to help institutions properly audit where their online student service gaps exist today? Yes, so I'm going to kind of give us another little historical overview, and that the school card actually was a response to the concerns of university provost and presidents here in Florida Atlantic as we were beginning to develop our two thousand and twenty five online education plan as a system. We wanted to make sure that the distance learning programs that we were producing had quality and within that the quality components was student support services. So one of the things we were concerned about is, are we offering the same level of services across the entire system and how could we know for sure that that was happening? So this led to the formation of a student support work group and that work group was made up but distance learning leaders in boat and student support leaders across the university and college system. And through that group we decided the best way for us to migrate or bringing improved student support services was to develop a tool that would assist in the discussion of what student support services should look like at an institution, and I think that's important because it's a discussion because each of us is uniquely different and so we have a different types of services and different things that we offer...

...to our students. So we want to make sure they eat that uniqueness of each of the institutions was preserved. So once that group went through and we developed the quality indicators and what we considered measures of quality, that particular score card was then shared with another group we have in Florida, the Florida virtual distance learning a council, which has also a student support group within that. In that group had broader representation of College of distance learning leaders and support people. So we faded it through that group as well, made them slight changes and then it was finally approved going through the Provost Office and Provost Implementation Committee and then finally to the Board of Governors. So within that scope we were able to put together, I believe, a really comprehensive measure of how of the quality of services and within an institution. So it takes a look at the entire life cycle. So it begins as the students indicating interests in an institution all the way to graduation. Yeah, I have the score card in front of me. I was able to conveniently download it from Ol see. It is super comprehensive. Can you help give us a couple examples of the functional areas and questions the score card would help someone walk through and where you've noticed the most common gaps are at a typical institution? Yes, so the first typical response. Then you talk, when you walk in or talk to an institution about their online student support services, they will usually respond, oh, we have that, and I think the reason that they believe they have it is because they see, they believe that online students can call them and...

...their office is during a typical work day and so yes, we're available and yes, they can get a get a hold of us if they need it. And that's not exactly what the online support score card, it said, designed to do. And it's amazing when you start diving into the scorecard and you start looking at what we considered, and there was a couple of things we considered as we put our quality indicators together, and one was, is this a service that you could provide on a website with quick, easy answers, with FAQ's or was it something that we felt the students might need a personal touch with and therefore should have a live person to reach out to? So once the institution starts taking this scorecard and kind of looking at it, then they're going to see what it is. Oh yes, maybe we could do better in that area, or is there some way we could reach out and engage the students with us? And this, I think the thing that you I've seen frequently is they might have a really good technical support system because the on campus students need that. Or maybe we've migrated our mission process to online because it's going to affect our enrollment if we do not. So you know it, those kinds of systems are kind of in place or starting to be in place. But now we're starting to delve into what happens post enrollment and that's where we actually see most of our gaps. We see actually the first gap that we actually noticed was in between our college and university partners, and we believe that the reason for the fewer number of services being available at a college studying is because the colleges themselves have fewer rest resources to develop some...

...of the technical solutions that are required and often end up putting more people to because they don't have technical solutions. They have to hire more people to respond, so it's much more difficult for them to put together the comprehensive list of support services that might be required. They also receive less funding. They tend to be up from the state, so they're tuition is lower. They may not receive as much per student to provide services. So those kind of combined to them having more gaps in in the score card than the universities do. So again we see more issues with the services provided post enrollment. So access to your advisor, and and that doesn't mean access by email or access by telephone during the day. Are we able to connect with that student of time convenient with them, because advisors often have to help with things outside just academic you know, scheduling. Maybe it's how do you enroll, or where can you find things on the website, or these are the services we might have available. You should have a screen available that you can share with your students and allow them to see what you're doing so they can replicate that on their own screens or even be able to capture their screens and guide them through the process. So the other thing we saw is career services, particularly in the colleges, was not quite as comprehensive. So help assistance with, you know, career writing, resume writing, interview skills and, surprisingly enough, were at the universities, we found that they did not have quite a comprehensive set of services for teaching online students how to engage in grant research or you know...

...those kinds of activities, and you would think that that would been a very strong there, but it really wasn't. Even some of the institutions didn't even have how to format your thesis or you know, some of the typical kind of things you might be invited to come to the Graduate College Office to learn how to do wasn't being provided in an online format. So we had to do a lot of work and to providing that same kind of rich research experience for our online graduate students. Vicky great examples. I am so grateful that this scorecard exists to help us all get better. Any next steps, advice for institutions looking to better prioritize student services for their online learners? Well, of course I'm going to ask the go download the online student support score card and it's with the online learning consortium. It's part of the quality suite and since it's their newest score card, it's at the very bottom of the page, so makes keep scrolling. And once you have that score card, I would suggest that you begin to socializing the use of the score card with various stakeholders and share with them that it's a tool, not that you're you're evaluating them, but just as a tool to determine availability of services. And then I would encourage the stakeholders to use the tool to evaluate their units and come back together to discuss strategies for those week areas that you might find. I will share from personal experience. I have found that student support personnel are probably the most creative, the most energetic and the most enthusiastic and really are very good at knowing how to use social media you. So getting them on board and thinking through that the situation and the challenges they might actually have is a good thing and they're going to come up with some very good creative solutions.

Vicki, thanks so much for your time today. What's the best place for listeners to connect with you with they have any follow up questions? The best thing to do is a curse email for me. It's the Brown to to at Fau Dot Eedu, and also I'm available on Linkedin. Awesome. Thanks against so much for joining us today. Viki, not a from life, enjoyed it. Attracting today's new post traditional learners means adopting new enrollment strategies. Helix educations data driven, enterprise wide approach to enrollment growth is uniquely helping colleges and universities thrive in this new education landscape, and Helix has just published the second edition of their enrollment growth playbook with fifty percent brand new content on how institutions can solve today's most pressing enrollment growth challenges. Downloaded today for free at Helix Educationcom. Playbook. You've been listening to enrollment growth university from Helix Education. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the shown itunes or your favorite podcast player. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time.

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