Student achievement is facilitated not only through the provision of quality online programs and courses, but also by delivering a wide range of online services supporting development of academic and personal skills essential for post-secondary success. Students require resources beyond those offered in course content to be effective learners. The development of these tools is undertaken by faculty and instructors, as well as staff in centres for teaching and learning, libraries, and student support centres.
The resources developed in Ontario and around the world for online student support differ in content, approach, and complexity, but they all address needs for support as independent and successful learners.
Learning how to use technology effectively: Developers recognize that not all students are so-called digital natives, and some require assistance with adopting technologies, especially for academic purposes. To respond to this, resources from short videos to full modules demonstrate how to access key services such as registration, financial aid, e-mail and other communication systems, as well as how to maneuver through the learning management system (LMS) and course materials. Resources available at Algonquin College and Sir Sandford Fleming College provide examples of these services for students. Participation in discussion boards, online test-taking and assignment delivery, and the use of search engines and various media sources are now essential skills and practical online tools guide students through their effective use. Just-in-time resources provide guidance, with infinite patience, for those uncomfortable or unfamiliar with technology.
Ryerson University offers a Digital Media Zone that provides students with support in developing digital and business skills by supporting start-up ideas.
Learning how to be a successful student: Examples from Ontario colleges and universities illustrate resources to help students with skills for successful learning, such as research, writing, presentation development, time management, note-taking, and studying. Niagara College provides a full course, offered for credit, to help students develop these skills. Students in Literacy and Basic Skills Programs at Confederation College, offered online in synchronous format, work through resources and exercises on an individual basis, aided by the constant online presence of instructors for support, clarification, and problem-solving. Individual counselling and program pathways, such as those offered at Northern College, support online learning success. At Cambrian College, online tutoring supplements the face-to-face service, extending the availability of the support to evenings and weekends, serving students at home. Northern College provides anywhere, anytime online tutoring from a live, online tutor.
More examples from Ontario institutions include engineering programs at Queen’s University in which essential learning and information literacy skills are integrated into the design of courses. At McMaster University, modules address both information and geospatial literacy. Rather than taking part in a one-time, face-to-face presentation on the topic, students have access to extensive sources they can consult at their own time and pace to address learning challenges. Course rubrics that clearly state and exemplify expectations, such as those used at Nipissing University, offer guidance and points of reference to improve student performance and confidence.
Many of these tools are accessible to all students being openly available on Ontario public college and university websites, including the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and York University. They may also be organized for multiple uses, by students working on their own, students working with staff in the student centre, or for faculty to integrate into course content or assignments. For some specific applications, including for students preparing for or participating in co-op placements at the University of Waterloo and the University of Ottawa, resources also focus on workplace readiness and skills, such as project management and collaboration.
Faculty and instructors offer online office hours, such as through the use of Skype at Algoma University, often in the evening so instructors can work through problems with students while they are studying rather than waiting until the next class. As an additional tool, frequently asked questions are put into a database, with their answers, for all students to consult, providing another source of immediate support.
The National Distance Education University in Spain offers a program of supports and adaptations for disabled learners, as well as a detailed process that stresses cross-institutional cooperation and consultation with each student. An open resource Student Tool Box from Dublin City University, Ireland offers resources and key questions to guide adults deciding on and starting post-secondary education.
Supplementary Learning: Innovative responses to the need for supplementary learning address the common challenges of students arriving from secondary school unprepared for the content demands of first-year mathematics, chemistry, and other subjects, in addition to supporting students at all levels who need additional practice and support throughout their courses. Examples of these tools are available for accounting students at Carleton University, in calculus at Queen’s University, and in mathematics at Wilfrid Laurier University.
The modules provide not only questions and answers, but also analysis of individual errors and links to question banks providing additional practice in areas of weakness. Research conducted on the success of students who work through these supplementary tools demonstrates significant improvements in grades.
Language learning also features widely used supplementary learning tools. Mobile language learning is effective and popular with English-as-an-additional-language students, often involving exercises that send them out into their communities to talk with residents to get necessary information. George Brown College in Ontario uses this approach in its blended learning language courses. Ontario’s University of Ottawa and Carleton University provide online support in vocabulary, speaking, listening and writing for Francophone and French as a Second Language students. These resources can be integrated for class use or serve as tools for self-directed learning. At the University of Barcelona in Spain, students have access to modules from a private company for language learning, to be used for learning outside of their registered courses.
Linking to Outside Sources: Faculty and instructors often provide online links to materials from a much wider variety of sources than would be accessible in a classroom or within required readings, thereby expanding not only points of view but also styles of presentation. The supplementary use of YouTube videos, materials provided by publishers, sections of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), photographs, and original archives allows students who prefer visual, sequential, or other approaches to learning to find what best suits their learning needs. The Open University of Catalonia in Spain has developed an online course template that links to both internal and external resources, offering students guidance on how long each resource requires for effective learning, as well as which core competencies it aids in developing.
The key points the educators make about the importance of online provision of student support services are that the resources and services must be accessible when and where the students need them – the just-in-time factor – and they must accommodate the pace, repetition, choice of emphasis, and preferred learning approach each student adopts for optimum learning.
Click one of the two links below to see a list of the Pockets of Innovation under each category and a link to the specific Pocket of Innovation.
- Algoma University - Moving to Digital: Introducing online resources for student learning and research
- Algonquin College - Moving Ahead with the Digital College: Mobile learning, open educational resources, and online and hybrid learning at Algonquin College
- Cambrian College - Reaching Out to Students at Home: Online Tutoring at Cambrian College
- Confederation College - Synchronous, Interactive, and Individual - Online learning opportunities for adults at Confederation College
- Carleton University - Improving Student Success in Financial Accounting with Online Learning at Carleton University
- Carleton University - VidéoTech: Creating and sharing online learning materials for French-as-a-second-language students by Carleton University and the University of Ottawa
- George Brown College - Blended Courses for Practical Language Learning at George Brown College
- McMaster University - Expanding Literacy: Online resources in information and geospatial literacy for students
- Niagara College - Commitment to Students and Excellence: Developing self-directed learners through iLearn at Niagara College
- Nipissing University - Community of Learners: Supporting and assessing online communications with Faculty of Education graduate students at Nipissing University
- Northern College - Mining technician at Northern: Flexibility in the Design and Delivery of the Mining Engineering Technician Program at Northern College
- Northern College - Online Design and Development Focused on Student Access and Learning at Northern College
- Queen’s University - Developing a Blended Learning Course for More Engaged Learning in Calculus at Queen’s University
- Queen’s University - Integrating Information Literacy into Course Design and Delivery: Engineering students learn about information search and management as a part of professional engineering skills
- Ryerson University - Digital Media Zone: An incubator for business development and learning for digital entrepreneurs
- Sir Sandford Fleming College - Before, During, and After Class: Online resources for students and faculty
- University of Ontario Institute of Technology - nool.ca: Providing support via the web for math and writing skills for first-year students
- University of Ottawa - Beyond the Classroom: Providing student support services through online resources for learning
- University of Waterloo - Skills for the Workplace: Professional development for co-op students on work placement at the University of Waterloo
- Wilfrid Laurier University - Mathematics Online – The Supplementary Module Program for Calculus at Wilfrid Laurier University
- York University - SPARK, the Virtual Learning Commons: An online resource for academic literacy at York University
- Dublin City University, Ireland - Dublin City University Leads the Development of a Student Success Toolbox for Adults Considering Post-Secondary Education
- National Distance Education University, Spain - Supporting Success for Students with Disabilities at the National Distance Education University (UNED) in Spain
- Open University of Catalonia, Spain - Challenge-Based Online Learning to Develop Essential Competencies at the Open University of Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain
- University of Barcelona, Spain - Providing and Supporting Self-Access Language Learning at the University of Barcelona, Spain