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Student Support

Student support includes a wide array of services starting with guidance counseling, enrollment, and orientation and continues with ongoing technical support, academic support, and mentoring. Each of these subjects is discussed below.

Guidance Counseling: Just as is the case with brick-and-mortar schools, students need guidance counseling to assist in determining their best course of study. For full-time schools, these responsibilities pretty much mirror the responsibilities of a guidance counselor in a traditional school, making sure the student is progressing from grade-to-grade towards graduation and that the courses they choose match their abilities and academic goals.

For supplemental programs, the responsibilities are a little different. In these cases, much of the work needs to focus on making sure the online learning program is serving as a complement to the student’s local school so that the combined academic experience is meeting all of the student’s needs. In many cases, much of the guidance counseling responsibilities will remain with the student’s local schools. The responsibility of the online learning program is to make sure the local school has the necessary information regarding course options, program policies, etc. so that school can provide the appropriate support.

Enrollment Support: Enrollment support is closely linked with guidance counseling but goes beyond determining the proper course of study for the student by assisting the student through the actual process of being enrolled into the program and specific courses. The enrollment process is one of the first interactions between the student and your program and the first impression can shape the student’s perception regarding the ongoing support they will receive.

For supplemental or consortia programs in which local schools must sign-up to participate in your online learning program before students from the school can enroll, enrollment support services also include supporting the school in their sign-up process. You also need to keep in mind how the enrollment process for the school will impact the enrollment process for the student. Students may contact you or try to enroll prior to their local school having signed-up to participate in your program. You need to be prepared to assist these students in a way that will minimize potential frustration. In addition, these students may be a resource for you in getting their school to participate by providing information about the best person to contact at the school. Sometimes it is easier to get a school to sign-up for your program when you are able to tell them about a specific student who would like to participate.

Orientation: After students have enrolled and prior to beginning the program, it is very helpful for the student to participate in an orientation process. Having a student take an online orientation course allows them to become familiar with the learning management system and any other software systems they will use. It also provides a further opportunity to communicate the overall expectations of what will be required to be successful in your online learning program. For some programs the orientation process includes an in-person meeting.

Technical Support: Access to robust technical support removes one of the key barriers to student success in online learning while taking a significant burden off teachers. To reduce initial technical support calls, many programs use automated checks of bandwidth, versions of Flash, Acrobat, Java, and other plug-ins required of students. Tutorials and online orientation sessions familiarize students with the learning management system to assist in a smoother transition to the online environment. Many programs make help desk support available 24/7 both by phone and virtually, and many have or are instituting service ticket systems to track more carefully student support communication and results.1

Academic Support and Mentoring: In a traditional classroom a skilled teacher is able to see when a student is struggling and offer the necessary academic support. In an online classroom, this can be more challenging. Regular and frequent assessments of student learning, combined with frequent communication between online teacher and student, allows the skilled online teacher to determine when a student needs academic support such as tutoring and alternative assignments that re-enforce course concepts.

Students also greatly benefit from having a face-to-face mentor who will make sure that the student stay on track. In a supplemental program, this might a teacher or guidance counselor at the local school, while in a full-time program this role is more typically filled by parent or someone that is able to be physically present with the student during the school day. Communication between the online teacher and the mentor is a critical aspect of the academic support provided to the student. Even if the student resists communication with the online teacher, the online teacher can communicate with the mentor and then the mentor can directly address the issue with the student.

References for footnotes can be found on the resources page or click on the footnote number for a direct link.