• Jo-Anne Murray

Student inductions during the Covid Era

As we draw nearer to the start of the semester and Covid has meant most of us in HE will be delivering a good chunk of teaching online, I thought it would be good to talk a little about inductions for students.

The online distance learner

First, let me talk about the online distance leaner that many of us know and have supported over the years. An induction to studying online is just part of the furniture now, we all know that this is hugely important and that it is critical for retention in the early weeks.

"The difference between the online learning now and before Covid is that before students were distant from the university and we knew we needed to work hard to avoid them feeling isolated in their learning, but they could still go out and interact in their day to day lives. Covid has restricted that, and so our online distance learner may feel isolated in their own homes, and therefore we need to make sure that we are doing additional check-ins on them at this time."

What about the on-campus learner during Covid?

What will the on-campus student experience look like? Firstly, many they may be just starting university for the first time (some first in family), some living at home, some having travelled from another country.

"But the traditional university experience won’t be possible at this time, students will participate in a significant amount of online learning, and whilst we all want to get them on campus and provide that face to face learning experience, the reality is that this will be dramatically reduced."

So what do we need to consider?

We need to ensure that the focus is on helping students to feel “part of” the university despite undertaking some of their learning online. This begins with the induction, which in addition to the area that would normally be covered during an on-campus induction session, it also needs to include studying online.

"This is where we can draw on experiences with online distance learners."

This aspect of the induction is an opportunity for students to familiarise themselves with the VLE and including activities such as, asking students to write a discussion post to introduce themselves, or to upload a video introduction, helps them get to know others but also gets them using the discussion areas and becoming comfortable with posting.

Whilst we may all think that seems straight forward, we have to remember that some of these students are new to university, are unlikely to know many people, may be worried that they are not going to fit in or may struggle with the work, and so some can feel apprehensive to expose themselves on a discussion board for fear they may be judged. This can especially be the case when it comes to asking questions. Thus, as much as you can do to encourage interaction in this way, the more relaxed students will become and their confidence in posting will improve.

Introducing the technologies

This is also a good time to test run some of the technologies that students will be using in their courses. A key one being the virtual classroom, such as Zoom. Setting up a live Zoom session during the induction week gives students the chance to check that everything works without worrying that they may miss a class if it doesn’t.

Again, it also helps get them used to the live chat and gaining confidence in posting questions and comments during the session. The majority of students are unlikely to switch their webcams on and, for me, that’s ok, certainly initially anyway. Some students may find it intimidating to have their camera on during the session and so it can take time for them to build up to that. They are likely to begin to do this in some smaller groups or when in the breakout rooms.

Setting up your online induction (the online learning aspects)

When setting up your induction space on your VLE, the same rules of signposting apply. Make sure it is clear where to find the information and what students have to work through on the site. Also ensure that any live sessions are well signposted and visible so that students don’t miss them.

As a guide the following sections/information to cover are:

- Aim of the induction

- Computer requirements, hardware and software

- Being an effective online learner

- Communicating online

Communicating online

It is benefitial to lay out some guidance on communicating online. Below is an example of what that guidance may look like:

Using text as a way of communicating can be challenging due to a lack of non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions and gestures. The lack of these cues in online learning can promote a less personal and friendly approach to learning. Using emoticons as a replacement for non-verbal cues can be extremely beneficial in promoting social presence online.

Below is guidance on communicating effectively:

  • Communicate positively, constructively and respectfully.

  • Refrain from attacking and avoid premature judging.

  • Write in a clear style to avoid misunderstanding; it is very easy to misinterpret emails and discussion posts.

  • Use appropriate grammar, spelling, capitalisation, and punctuation, e.g:

  1. Don't use all capital letters. This is considered SHOUTING.

  2. Don't use exclamation marks to emphasise something you are frustrated about!!!!!!!

  3. Don't use red writing. This can be interpreted as annoyance.

  4. Re-read messages before sending; use spelling and grammar checks.

  • Don't post a message impulsively.

  • Use appropriate etiquette.

  • Don't say anything electronically that would not be said face-to-face.

  • Don't vent emotions.

Hang in there

Many institutions have gone from online learning being a component of on-campus learning in that some courses may use a blended learning approach and also having some online distance learning to now having to teach everything online. This is a huge change in scale and has accelerated the pace at which universities have had to move to digital. Where possible, draw on the experience of others who have experience in teaching and assessing line, your learning technologist is also your go to just now and remember that everyone is in the same boat. Take breaks, try not to stress and reach out to colleagues for support.

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