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Sharriette Finley and Jeanna Chapman, Georgia Perimeter College-Online

Sharriette Finley.jpgJeanna Chapman.jpgLife obligations have resulted in more students continuing their educations online.  Our observation at Georgia Perimeter College (GPC)–Online is that even though students continue their education online, many still want aspects of a more traditional college experience. GPC is the third largest college within the University System of Georgia (USG).  With more than 9,000 online students, GPC has the largest online program within the USG. To better serve our growing online population, it has been necessary for us to develop and maintain consistent, high-quality student services with a specific focus on online academic advising.  The GPC-Online Student Success Team (SST) has as our mission partnering with online students to promote a campus experience in an online atmosphere: providing online academic advising, complementing advising with online resources, and creating an inclusive community among online students. These strategies encourage retention and lead to student success

Online Academic Advising

Wagner (2001) declared that advisors are to “nurture, encourage, inform, and support” students during their academic careers (¶ 2). Online learners still require this “high touch” level of service in a “high tech” environment. Effective academic advising is holistic, involves others in the advising process, and helps students integrate information to make well-informed decisions (NACADA, 2005). SST members advise online students and guide them according to their individual interests, goals, and life obligations while helping them meet graduation and transfer  requirements.

Advising for online learners should respond to their unique needs, instead of requiring them to fit within an established organizational structure (NACADA, 2010).  Online tools like email, Advising Request Forms, Academic Plans for Success, and an Online Student Success Course (OSSC) connect advisor and student. Students submit advising requests via email or OSSC and receive a response in one business day or less.  The Academic Plans for Success aids in documenting progress and charting a course for success.  The OSSC provides a foundation for building a stronger online community.

Online Student Success Classroom and Resources

Accessibility to resources is essential to the success of online students. When we partner with students in a developmental manner, advisors aid students in achieving educational, career, and personal goals by using a full range of resources (Winston, Miller, Ender, Grites, 1984).

Resources created and utilized by the GPC-OL SST are an online Student Success Backpack and an Online Student Success Course (OSSC).  Furthermore, an Online WIMBA Classroom is accessible from OSSC and via Web. The Student Success Backpack provides guides that help meet student needs in the areas of academic, life skills, and career development.  Through OSSC, students have access to learning modules that focus on succeeding in college. Included in the modules are lessons on researching and communicating effectively online. OSSC also serves as the “home-base” for Online Student Life, as well as career news and updates. The Online WIMBA Classroom is the setting for workshops on finances, stress reduction, goal-setting, and open house Webinars.

Building an Online Community

Many students have a great deal of experience in the online world and expect high quality online interaction (Lorenzetti, 2006). In GPC’s online environment, this need is met through a discussion blog created in OSSC. The discussion blog serves as an outlet for students to express thoughts on various issues. SST members initiate and participate in commonly discussed topics including tutoring, organizing, and relieving stress.  Though we initiate the discussions, the online students guide them.

Team members continue to be impressed with the level of knowledge of students and their willingness to share thoughts, information, and advice with each other. Recently, students shared their thoughts on social networking. Among their comments were how social networking may benefit people who are introverted and people with disabilities, and how age factors into using social networking for academic purposes. Students also noted that excessive social networking could have a negative impact on academics.

Online students have much to offer. They are the present and the future of education.  As technology continues to evolve, we must allow it to enhance the way we interact with students. Email, discussion blogs, and Webinars have elevated the ways we communicate with our online students.  SST advisors understand that we are a crucial link between students’ virtual environment and the physical environment of college-wide services. We provide the link to the well-rounded education our online students seek.

We want online students to stay, succeed, and graduate. That result is best achieved when we include them in the college experience. Online advising tools, online success resources, and secure online chat options are necessary components for the delivery of holistic online student services.  These tools actively engage online students in the whole college experience.

Sharriette Finley
Georgia Perimeter College-Online
Sharriette.Finley@gpc.edu

Jeanna Chapman
Georgia Perimeter College-Online
Jeanna.Chapman@gpc.edu

References

Lorenzetti, Jennifer Patterson.  (2006). Developing effective online student services.  Distance Education Report. Retrieved from http://web.ebscohost.com

NACADA. (2005). Statement of Core Values of Academic Advising.  Retrieved from www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/Core-Values-Declaration.htm

NACADA. (2010). Distance Education Advising Commission Standards for Advising Distance Learners. Retrieved from www.nacada.ksu.edu/Commissions/C23/Documents/DistanceStandards_000.pdf

Wagner, Linda.  (2001, Fall). Virtual advising:  Delivering student services. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration.Retrieved from www.westga.edu/%7Edistance/ojdla/fall43/wagner43.pdf.

Winston, R. B., Miller, T. K., Ender, S. C., Grites, T. J., & Associates (1984). Developmental Academic Advising. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 

Cite this article using APA style as: Finley, S. & Chapman, J. (2011, June). Actively including online students in the college experience. Academic Advising Today, 34(2). Retrieved from [insert url here]
Posted in: 2011 June 34:2

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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.

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