Six High-Touch Processes for Improving Student Learning in Online Classes

In the fall of 2016, we embarked on a journey to integrate high-touch processes into our online introductory courses in psychology and business administration. Examples of our processes include such well-known technology best practices as instructor personalized videos (including weekly course communication), synchronous events (including a welcome orientation for students), text messaging, virtual office-hour sessions for students, contacting at-risk students during the first week of class, issuing reminders of upcoming due dates, and following any missed assignments with a personalized message.

Instructor personalized videos

  • Process Used: Weekly personalized video, generally one to three minutes in length. Most often the videos were utilized as an update of upcoming items along with recaps of the prior week’s learning. The videos often included instructor’s insights and were shot at various locations and often done with another instructor to create interaction.
  • Technology Used: iMovie, Movie Maker, and Camtasia
  • Initial Learning: Students were very forgiving and really appreciated our efforts. The students found the fun nature of the process, personal stories, and insights outside the textbook very rewarding.

Synchronous events

  • Process Used: Weekly online synchronous events, such as virtual office hours, online seminar discussions, homework help sessions, and lunch and learn sessions. These events were attended by students on an as-needed basis.
  • Technology Used: Adobe Connect and Skype for Business
  • Initial Learning: Students enjoyed getting the opportunity to have access to instructors who had time to focus on their questions and needs.

Text messaging

  • Process Used: Students opted to receive updates, reminders, and access to instructors via text messaging.
  • Technology Used: Remind, Blackboard IM, and others
  • Initial Learning: Students who participated found this form of communication valuable.

Virtual office hours

  • Process Used: Each instructor did two to three hours of virtual offices per week.
  • Technology Used: Adobe Connect and Skype for Business
  • Initial Learning: Students found it rewarding.

Contacting at-risk students during the first week of class

  • Process Used: We created a predictive model to forecast student success on the first day of class. We utilized this simplistic model to contact at-risk students during the first week of class. This contact was meant to build trust and presence between instructor and student.
  • Technology Used: Emails, phone calls, texts, and face-to-face meetings with students on campus
  • Initial Learning: We built trust with at-risk students early in the semester. Contracting and following up on low-risk assignments is of high value to improve student success.

Issuing reminders of upcoming due dates

  • Process Used: Reminders of due dates were sent weekly in the form of texts, emails, checklists, and announcements.
  • Technology Used: Emails, texts, and LMS announcements that are often programmed to go out on certain dates.
  • Initial Learning: Students performed better, especially at-risk students.

Following any missed assignment with a personalized message

  • Process Used: We followed up with students who did not submit assignments to understand how improvements could be made.
  • Technology Used: Emails, texts, LMS grade books, phone calls, Starfish
  • Initial Learning: Instructors should seek to listen to students and understand their perspective without lowering standards.

Now for the good part—we saw improved results! Student surveys showed a substantial improvement in responses to questions on learning environment, instructor interaction, and student-to-student interaction. And to those still concerned about academic rigor, the question with the biggest improvement in student opinion: The course challenges me to obtain a deeper understanding of content. Second, students were more likely to successfully complete the course. Finally, students performed better on standardized student outcome test questions. Our team was excited that these three metrics aligned so favorably as we continued to learn and improve.

And, of course, we will continue to evolve our protocol/process, but the idea to collect great best practices and turn them into best processes appears to have some real merit. In addition, it’s a fun journey.

Chris Roddenberry is an associate professor of psychology, and Tom Rankin is an assistant professor of business administration at Wake Technical Community College.

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