Speaker: Christina Hubbard
While these are certainly trying times, various circumstances can necessitate virtual services from today’s colleges and universities. Watch the on-demand webconference where EAB’s Christina Hubbard, Senior Director of Strategic Research, will share a few recommendations that can help you, your students, and your staff to feel more connected even when they can’t interact in person. There will be challenges ahead, but the most important thing to do is to keep your focus where you know it belongs: determining what it will take for your students to succeed and putting those pieces into place.
Read the transcript
Thank you for joining my latest insight on providing virtual support to students and staff during crisis. My name is Christina Hubbard, and I’m a researcher here at EAB. Today I wanted to take a moment to share a few recommendations that can help you, your students, and your staff to feel more connected, even when they can’t interact in person. These practices are derived from my own work as an online instructor for the past 10 years and five years managing a team of advisors, counselors, and support staff that worked remotely due to the flexibility required to serve our adult learners. I certainly don’t claim to know it all, but I wanted to share these ideas in hopes that it would help college leaders adapt during these volatile times.
First, let’s take a look at what students need to succeed online. I’ve been fortunate to teach at a college that has put an exceptional amount of thought into developing an environment that affords their online learners the same supportive environment they receive on campus. I wanted to be careful in these recommendations to avoid factors that take a lot of lead time because I know many of us need our online classes up and running immediately.
So let’s take a look at four aspects that really drive student success online. These are in no particular order. But let’s start with instruction. There are countless faculty right now who have shifted their face to face classes online and they may not feel well equipped to prepare the virtual classrooms. Collaborations with instructional design teams will help ease this transition. It’s also important to have web based training modules that will allow faculty to review and repeat training on best practices for teaching online at your institution.
Finally, one overlooked factor is the importance of having dedicated staff that focus on LMS tech support. Ideally, this is someone who has a deep understanding of the LMS that you use, and they’re likely to be outside the usual IT help desk. This is important because that deep understanding is what will make a difference in what is possible in the LMS in terms of testing, discussion boards, asynchronous interactions, etc.
That brings us to the second area: student life. No one should underestimate the importance of student life in the success of college students. We need to think creatively about how we can keep our students connected to each other in remote environments. I’ve shared a few ideas here, such as establishing a blog where students can share their feelings and thoughts during this challenging time. Perhaps you can create virtual meetups. We’re hearing about people doing things like setting up online meetings where small groups of people share dinner and chat. Another idea is to use this time to stream college speakers. Instead of sharing everything out to students via email, consider setting up a broadcast to increase the human touch in our interactions with students.
Next we have advising. For colleges who have adopted a caseload management approach, encourage your advisors to check in with all of their students. This can be as light as a survey or more intensive using phone or video meetings. If staff have concerns about compromising their personal phone numbers, there are many web based tools for making these calls. But this personal touch for this kind of communication, it might be a lifeline that keeps your students connected and feeling like they can keep going during these challenging times.
For those who are not using a caseload management approach, surveys may work best and then divide up negative responses and non respondents across your advising teams to conduct outreach to those individuals. While you may temporarily request the support of your advisors with a specialization like career or transfer advising, across time, they will need to build out their own virtual programming in their disciplines.
Next we have general support services. This list highlights areas that might be a challenge but essential to the long term success of your students taking online classes. There are providers that can help extend your services online, or you can work with your campus teams to determine the best way to make your existing resources available virtually. While we’re very much focused on supporting the success of students online, we’ve also heard from many folks that they aren’t really sure how to manage their newly remote staff.
First, we can’t overstate the importance of regular communication. Shifting to a virtual environment can make staff feel like they’re on an island. Encourage them to collaborate with their peers, carve out time for more water cooler type conversation, and managers should be looking for insight from their teams about what’s working and what’s not.
Second, build opportunities to collaborate on solutions. These are unprecedented times and many teams are trying to solve new problems on the fly. Try to be more intentional and invite the opportunity to work together to serve students, schedule team time we’re staff report out on challenges students are facing, and encourage others to weigh in with potential solutions. Without a doubt, if one team member has encountered an obstacle, it’s only a matter of time before someone else has the same issue. So using swarms or groups of people to think through a challenge can be incredibly helpful.
Third, check in regularly. Managers should have a complete virtual check in with each direct report at least once per week. This should be scheduled for at least 30 minutes to set the expectation of depth. Use the time to discuss long term projects as well as top short term priorities. Takeaway items that you can work on to support your team members. Also, be sure to do a daily check in to see how things are going and how you can support your team members.
Fourth, report on activities. In my program we did something that we referred to as a Friday five. It was a quick note that went out to the whole team highlighting the top five items that consumed staff members mindshare that week. This could be individual student obstacles or something more comprehensive like made appointments with entire caseload to plan for registration. This is also a great place to celebrate wins and make sure people feel connected to each other on our common goals and objectives.
Five, track productivity metrics. This is especially tricky with the time constraints we’re under in the shift remote work. While I focused on student outcomes such as persistence and success of students on my advisors case loads, in today’s environment, we need to look at short cycle metrics. It might make more sense to measure immediate progress, such as how many students did you reach out to and how many did you connect with. These metrics certainly aren’t perfect. A call to a student might take 30 seconds or 30 minutes depending on the students needs, but at least it gives some measure of productivity.
And finally, coordinate and navigate. Tracking our interactions does a lot in terms of building accountability and demonstrating productivity. While leadership will not have capacity to review all of the notes, it encourages staff to document their work and build a more coordinated care network with other campus teams to serve the needs of students.
This is a period of unprecedented circumstances. We are moving quickly, and even with the best intentions, we aren’t going to get everything right. While there will certainly be challenges, the most important thing you can do right now is to keep your focus where you know it belongs. Focus on what it will take for your students to succeed and then put those pieces into place. For additional resources, please check out our website www.eab.com/emergencyresponse. You’ll find expert insights and the latest resources to help you navigate these trying times. Thank you.