This section includes examples of best practice where institutions are using innovative approaches to provide learning and support online.
Communication between the University and the distance learning students - Staffordshire University 2013
The School of Computing at Staffordshire University has distance learning students studying at undergraduate and masters levels. Over the last five years we have adopted an hybrid of communication methods with our distance learning students with an underlying aim to provide what is effective for each individual and also using techniques which staff and students can easily use. Methods include the following:
Email which is by far the most popular and most frequent method of communication. Staff can respond to emails from students but also contact the module cohort by use of individual University email addresses or module code email addresses. Email is popular with students for most support and feedback questions, and the School of Computing aims to respond to emails within 2 days of receipt but in most cases the response is much quicker than this.
Due to the location of our DL students all over the world it is necessary to provide communication support beyond the traditional (UK) 9am to 5pm weekday calendar. The School of Computing outlines the service levels in each award handbook and communicates this to the DL students. This has been received positively by the cohorts over the last 5 years of operating DL courses.
The University’s standard Virtual Learning Environment (Blackboard) additionally provides a mechanism for talking to the cohort via a group communication and, apart from hosting module content for each course, provides other central communication about the requirements of each module as well as feedback.
Email and Blackboard are augmented by telephone communication for support when needed. The School uses the latest Voice over IP phone network and for award leaders and other team members, the facility exists for students to contact staff via a well published internal extension number and the opportunity to leave an answer machine message. Some award leaders also have a call forward option set to mobile phones for weekend support. As with all communication with distance learning, the turnaround of the contact is the crucial aspect.
Finally, virtual face to face communication is used by Skype. Students are encouraged at induction to get a free Skype user Id.
The School uses Skype communication for all aspects of the lifecycle of a DL award, which includes regular support to explain notes through to project meetings. Skype has proved to be very useful and is obviously the most visual of all the methods used.
In summary communication with the distance learning students is all about the people side of being part of an award.
We have found all the techniques outlined above have helped to promote a feeling of belonging and timely support.
Further information can be found at: http://www.staffs.ac.uk/distancelearning
Student representation via the online forum - University of Liverpool On-Line 2013
Because of the online nature of the University of Liverpool’s online provision it is not possible to run a “face-to-face” student liaison committee. Instead a mechanism for Online Staff Student Liaison Committees (Forum) has been established. This operates as follows:
On an annual basis, invitations are sent to all students who can opt to put themselves forward for nomination as a Student Representative on the online Staff Student Liaison Committee (SSLC). Elections are then held and students vote for the Student Representative for their programme.
Student Representatives collect feedback from their fellow students on issues ranging from the content and structure of programmes to communication and resources. They then share this feedback with senior academics from the University of Liverpool and Laureate Online Education staff at SSLC meetings which are held three times each year shortly before each Board of Studies. These meetings are held using teleconferencing, so a student's geographical location is no bar to them becoming a Student Representative.
The outcomes of the SSLC meetings are presented at the University’s Board of Studies through which The University is able to consider any changes, improvements or additions that need to be made to the tools and services offered. The Student Representatives therefore plays an important role and make a valuable contribution to the overall student experience.
Each Representative has a designated email address that is made available to students in order to facilitate easy contact between other students and their representatives. The representative is also present in the online communities that are available in the student portal so that discussions can be raised and held prior to SSLC meetings.
A team of Representation Coordinators at Laureate Education manage the process; this includes the hosting of elections, training for newly appointed representatives. The team is available all year round to help with any inquiries that the Student Representatives may have throughout their term.
For further details, please see: