Creating And Managing A Virtual Orientation
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Designing Engaging Virtual Orientations

In order to create and manage a virtual orientation, it is important to design a flexible process that will help identify resources, objectives, and stakeholders that will effectively structure an engaging orientation. First, it is essential to use a Learning Management System that will host all modules and resources like Blackboard or Inquisiq. Next, it is recommended to ensure frequent and effective communication with all stakeholders during the development and management of the orientation with the use of Slack or Smartsheet to track updates, send proofs, and build essentials teams.

Needs Assessment

Before creating a virtual orientation, it is important to conduct a needs assessment on the resources and content that will be used. It is essential that all items are accessible to students and comply with Section 508 guidelines. Thus, it is essential to work with multiple departments to establish common learning objectives for students to be able to achieve.

It is important to note that students experiencing distance education for the first time may have higher anxiety levels and be less emotionally engaged while online (Sun & Rueda, 2012, p.202). This is why it is essential for distance students to feel a sense of belonging and connect with the institution as a whole. By creating a community of learners in online learning, this prevents learners from feeling isolated, especially since they cannot see one another in person. Therefore, it is important to be mindful of various types of student engagement, which include social, cognitive, behavioral, collaborative, or emotional engagement.

Design

Designing opportunities for student engagement in a virtual orientation requires a tremendous amount of strategic planning to develop course objectives, content, and participation opportunities. Thus, it is essential to encourage student engagement, designing an online space for students to introduce themselves. Online spaces that require students to share their beliefs, values, or personal opinions help engage students in an interactive learning environment, which can be facilitated on any Learning Management System through discussion boards. Other discussion tools that are great for integrating with a virtual orientation include Blackboard Collaborate or VoiceThread.

Student backgrounds also impact the degree of students’ social engagement. This can be accomplished by designing student support services that take into account the context of diverse distance learners, like their cultural, knowledge, or school backgrounds. Designing student support services at the onset in a virtual orientation may help offer various forms of engagement in online learning such as previous online learning experiences.

Assessment

Assessments provide opportunities for students to apply the knowledge learned in a virtual orientation and promote multiple forms of engagement throughout the course. Educators and designers should attempt to develop assessments that promote students’ sense of being within a social purpose, as students are more encouraged to have more authentic student engagement as opposed to simply having attendance be a requirement. Online forums are essential, especially to university-led online interaction.

For instance, Articulate Rise allows for both formative and summative assessments to occur within a module. Formative assessments are completed through the use of knowledge checks and summative assessments are done with a quiz option that can be synchronized with a Learning Management Systems' gradebook. Therefore, the assessment should be used to promote students’ sense of connection with other students. Finally, assessments should be used to help students self-reflect on their experiences in orientation. Developing students’ metacognition and reflection is critical to their success, not only academic success, and is equally important to their cognitive engagement.

Management

Managing virtual orientations is essential to the success of creating communities within programs and keeping resources up to date. Barriers to student engagement can occur if students feel they cannot adequately build successful online friendships in online learning. Thus, it is important that universities understand that online interactions outside of the university may well be responsible for the feeling that social interaction plays a more significant role than in blended learning models. Therefore, universities should understand the impact that social networking opportunities have on the distance learning student by increasing the use of applications like Facebook, which may increase students’ social engagement by increasing their confidence due to the positive formation of online student identities.

By capitalizing on social networking opportunities during a virtual orientation, students can increase their online social engagement not only for their courses but also in their program. Any opportunity to establish a sense of community should be done before, during, and after courses. Thus, it is essential to design and embed support at the beginning of distance education students’ journeys.

Evaluation

In order to improve virtual orientations and identify strengths, it is important that students are given evaluations at the end of their experience. Currently, “surveys (27.58%) are the most commonly used data tools to measure student engagement” (Yilmaz & Barnyard, 2020, p.111). However, there are some disadvantages with the heavy reliance on student responses to their distance education experiences. For instance, relying on students' responses about the skills they believe they have learned is questionable since students may not necessarily understand the academic terms of thinking critically and analytically in the way it is intended in the questions.

Also, surveys are only a snapshot of the student experience and minimize the complexity and various types of engagement. Thus, the interpretation of how students define critical thinking and analysis may differ from how educators and administrators are defining it. Despite some of the disadvantages of student surveys, they do allow educators and administrators to identify how other variables impact students’ overall experiences in online learning based on their individual experiences. Thus, it is important to validate the students’ experiences in online learning by asking them to discuss their engagement experience and perception of the virtual orientation from their perspective.

Conclusion

While designing a virtual orientation, it is essential to work with multiple departments to ensure that all items are included and an effective communication structure is in place to collaborate. Also, it is important to conduct a needs assessment, develop a thoughtful design, integrate assessment opportunities, manage resources and social networking opportunities, and evaluate the effectiveness of the orientation program. The process to create and manage engaging and effective virtual orientations does not have to be overwhelming. By developing a flexible process in the design, it will encourage and promote student engagement and build communities within virtual orientation programs.

References:

  • Sun, J., & Rueda, R. (2012). Situational interest, computer self‐efficacy and self‐regulation: Their impact on student engagement in distance education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 43(2), 191–204.
  • Yilmaz, A., & Banyard, P. (2020). Engagement in Distance Education Settings: A Trend Analysis. The Turkish Online Journal of Distance Education TOJDE, 21(1), 101–120.
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