Schools ask all the time how they can help their students find great success in online courses. Not surprisingly, we find that the greatest support system that students need is the same as in a face-to-face classroom: a strong tie between the student and her teacher. As you work to support students on your campus, help them strengthen relationships with their online teachers… and make sure to “do this” and “don’t do that.”
Encourage your students (even require them, as the case may warrant!) to set up time to talk to their teachers regularly. We require all students to have at least one face-to-face meeting with their teachers (via Skype or Google Hangout) during the first few weeks – that way girls feel comfortable reaching out for help with they need it. And, our teachers always offer and require other real-time meetings with students throughout the year. We can predict almost to a student those who will struggle in online courses, when they delay these meetings, miss appointments, or blow off them all together. A strong connection between student and teacher is the strongest indicator of success in our classes; therefore, the greatest support you can offer is to help the student strengthen this tie. For students who are shy to forge this connection themselves, help them craft messages to their teachers or even sit with them the first few times that they talk with their teachers.
Don’t Do That
And the worst mistake? Providing an on-campus person to provide “extra help” for a struggling student. I recognize that sometimes this feels like a logical solution, but it is a bad idea and often exacerbates a difficult situation. I groan (loudly!) every time I hear a school say they have assigned a teacher on campus to provide academic support. This is the fastest way to erode the relationship between a student and her online teacher, because you’ve then given the student an excuse not to get to know her online teacher better (the opposite of what good support for students is!). Teachers on your campus can be great advisors, encouraging girls to manage their time well and to connect with their online teachers when they need help, but it is counterproductive for them to offer content help. Our teachers are available and willing and know how important it is to connect with your girls. Requiring girls to connect with their own teachers and refusing to allow them to work on content with your teachers is the best way to remedy any type of struggle in our classes. I’ve seen it work miracles!
Brad Rathgeber (he/him/his)