Understanding Student Support: The Link Between Faculty, Student, and Online Learning

Understanding Student Support: The Link Between Faculty, Student, and Online Learning

Tabitha Rangara-Omol
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5557-5.ch017
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Blended learning comprises of teaching and learning formats that complement online technologies for both on-campus and off-campus students. The disposition of online learning requires the student to exercise autonomy, independence, and self-reliance, and the teacher to engage skills that facilitate, guide, and mentor students. These skills need to be developed through support systems that encourage both faculty and student participation. This chapter examines the concept of student support with the objective of providing a background and justification for its role in online learning. The chapter proposes that student support should be part of faculty training with a double-faceted benefit: 1) faculty will adopt the use of technology while learning online student support systems; 2) a well-designed support system will contribute to best practice through improved student retention and success.
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Institutions providing online / blended learning formats have expanded through diverse models, with some mushrooming without comprehensive frameworks. Universities cite various contributory factors for instituting online learning formats. These include; economies of scale, geographical distribution of students, growth of ICT and downsizing of institutional funding and staff (Boit & Kipkoech, 2012; Nyerere, Gravenir, & Mse, 2012). One major factor however, is the rapid global population growth which has surpassed the rate of expansion of physical facilities, necessitating university administrations to implement alternative modes of education that can accommodate the increased demand. The unprecedented rise in population has subsequently increased demand for education surpassing all expectations and projections for national education sectors. With increase in the number of admissions, focus is turning to the question of quality, teaching and learning experiences and student support frameworks.

Student support is a component of online learning that is frequently overlooked during instructional design. Yet, without meaningful support and with frequent technology changes, the student becomes overwhelmed while faculty gets intimidated. Student support should ideally be integrated within teaching and learning activities through electronic techniques, emails and correspondences, telephone and computer mediated learning, counselling, mentoring and both online and offline administrative services (Tait, 2000; Roberts, 2004; Stevens & Kelly, 2012). It consists of learning resources and processes that are generically designed for specific student cohorts based on general societal trends, perceived within student needs and profiles. Student support is concerned with both the individual and / or cohort of students’ interaction with the learning environment, learning management systems and educational processes. Due to the physical absence of the teacher and the institution, the off-campus / online student often experiences less support than the on-campus colleagues. This endorses the need for student support on blended and online learning environments. The boundary between student support and course implementation is often unclear because every stage of implementation from course advertisement, recruitment, academic journey to graduation requires the presence of student support (Thorpe, 2002; Shillington, Brown, MacKay, Paewai, Suddaby, & White, 2012).

Even though, most universities adopting online learning formats have trouble deciding; whether to conceptualise student support structures as a subsystem within or as a complementary addition to course materials. Thorpe (2002) explains that past generations of off-campus learning advanced student support as that which happens after course materials are prepared and the program has been implemented. Student support was considered as a complementary service. However, in the third and subsequent generations, the application of education technology has changed the concept of separation (especially temporal separation) with online transactions. Numerous courses are currently generated and executed online. Therefore, current student support frameworks are embedded in the structure of the course / program. This makes course design and student support inseparable (Thorpe, 2002).

The influence of the internet on education is another contemporary issue regarding student support. The internet as a platform for online / distance learning, is a colossal structure which accommodates an exponential amount of information, unregulated open education resources (OER) and open courseware (OCW) materials. Students are unsure of what, which and how much knowledge is relevant to their study. The internet so significant and yet so amorphous that faculty and institutions are yet to define practical frameworks of how to engage with it. Student support should thus be a significant component of online / distance learning in steering course objectives and student priorities on what, when and how much information should be accessed at any given time.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Transactional Theory: Is borne from acknowledging that educational processes as transactions. Transaction being an agreement or contract or pact between the student and the teacher and/or university.

Philosophical Assumptions: Value, beliefs, and abstraction understanding of student support that constitute the framework for providing such services. These include the belief that student support will have a positive impact on student retention.

Dual Mode Program: Programs or courses provided by universities which offer both of on-campus and off-campus teaching and learning activities. The student has the choice of studying on or off campus with no differentials and discrimination in certification.

Student Support: Student support is an all-inclusive term for academic and non-academic assistance towards the student’s learning, health, spiritual being, community engagement, hidden curriculum, extra curriculum activities, and a successful graduation from the program. It should include preparation for learning challenges, career guidance and counselling, continuous administrative support, computer skills, technology and library training, tuition and mentoring support, peer support, and community support.

Online Learning: To bridge the separation between student and faculty, communications media is used to facilitate the learning experience. Online learning is the use of communications media intertwined with distance learning in any given program. At the onset of distance learning, the student solely interacted with printed material by correspondence through postal service. Today, various media (through technology advancements) can be combined even within one technology (multimedia) to transmit various forms of learning materials including print, audio-visuals, simulations, and demonstrations. Modern technologies have also enabled the student not only to interact with the learning materials but also with the teacher, the institution, and colleagues.

Student Journey: Also referred to as student walk, is the academic life of the student from registration at the beginning of the first year to graduation at the end of the program. The journey is composed of stages whose progression is dictated by the student’s performance at each stage facilitating a step up to the next stage.

Blended Learning: Blended learning are formats that are usable by both on-campus and off-campus students. Both categories of students can engage in teaching and learning through the online learning management systems. There is a growing mix up and integration between face-to-face programs and online learning / distance learning. Technologies have enabled on-campus student to interact with learning materials, teachers and peers through Web 2.0 technologies like Moodle, blogs, and e mails. This has given rise to the terms blended learning, distributed learning, and flexible learning.

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