Five Things to Know about Online Learning

By guest columnist Dr. Dennis Trinkle, Ball State University September 14, 2020. As faculty members and administrators continue to develop effective responses to the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, many institutions have looked to online and digital solutions for sustaining instruction and a positive learning experience.  The sudden onset of the pandemic has forced institutions globally to prioritize digital transformations and enhancements to their systems at a rapid pace that can be tough to keep up with and to accept “good enough” solutions in the short-term.

Now, as institution look toward the 20-21 academic year with more time to prepare and assure a quality learning experience for students, there are many lessons to be taken from the high-quality best practices in online learning and remote work that have been shaped and driven by careful assessment, experimentation, and development over the past three two decades.

Five key understandings may be particularly useful to instructors and institutional leaders developing plans for the fall and for a future educational ecosystem that is quite likely to heavily incorporate online learning.

Lesson 1.  Connections and relationship between students and instructors are foundational.

Students are most engaged and successful in online learning when they feel connected to their instructor and peers.  During these unsettled times, it is already anecdotally clear that students value and benefit from relationship and communication.  Success is anchored in relationships.  When instructors can consistently connect live with students, it is highly beneficial.  Instructors should think about how they can most effectively accomplish this in their courses.  Some effective practices include:

    • Making a live connection whenever you can
    • Sharing short pre-recorded personal videos with students to provide affective presence
    • Introducing key assignments or/and discussions with short videos
    • Holding online connection hours or “coffee” chats
    • Using discussion forums specifically for interaction and discussion forums discussion of key topics
    • Using AI-conversion tools to translate interactions to meet accessibility needs
    • Leveraging voice-over and screen annotation tools to provide discussions and explanations of materials and content

Lesson 2.  Connection and interaction between students are also vital.

When students have the opportunity to interact with one another, establish rapport and collaborate, they feel engaged, connected and part of a supportive community.  Amidst Covid, students have regularly commented that their group projects have been an anchor of stability and personal connection for them.  Students who feel engaged and connected also feel more safe, stable, secure and able to focus on learning.

Useful strategies for fostering student-to-student online interaction include:

    • Incorporating group projects
    • Assigning groups of students to own and lead weekly discussions
    • Using group presentations to reinforce or expand on key learning goals
    • Assigning study teams or share pairs
    • Asking students to provide feedback to another student on a project or assignment
    • Encouraging students to use collaboration forums in an LMS or a social collaboration tool like Slack to support each other

Lesson 3.  Clear and consistent communication is essential

High stress environments such as a new learning or environment or our current extreme circumstances negatively impact cognitive processing.  We simply do not process, retain, or learn as effectively in stressful circumstances.  Thus, it is essential to communicate as clearly, directly, and simply as possible, repeating important information or content in multiple formats at multiple times to reinforce absorption and understanding.  For essential topics, repeating 7 ways on 7 days can be a useful tactic. Being especially clear on expectations and logistical information is important.  Content may be complex and challenging; directions and guidance should be simple and clear.

Specific tactics for assuring clear communication include:

    • Repeating key information in multiple places and different ways (textual, graphically, etc.)
    • Being as precise and detailed on operational and logistical expectations as possible
    • Modelling a safe environment for students to ask questions and seek clarity
    • Provide regular feedback! Qualitative feedback is important for student engagement and learning
    • Keeping inclusively and culturally-sensitive communication practices top of mind for online learning environment

 Lesson 4.  Provide structure, patterns and predictability 

A close correlate of effective communication is a clear organizational structure, patterns of work, and guidelines for course expectations.   Some learning experiences require ambiguity and uncertainty.  In all other cases, organizing the course content and structure so that it is clear, direct, and easy to comprehend is important to the learning experience. While this may seem obvious, it is far harder to create and provide concise and clear directions, so it is often neglected.  Make it a priority.

Specific techniques for assuring clear organization include:

    • Providing a clear map of weekly expectations and assignments
    • Using weekly topical themes that highlight and reinforce learning objectives
    • Re-stating assignments, goals, and objectives each week
    • Keeping inclusively and culturally-sensitive communication practices top of mind for online learning environments

Lesson 5.  Be flexible and capture student feedback

In a live classroom, providing students with regular real-time feedback and being flexibility happens organically.  In an online environment, it requires a deliberate and consistent approach.  The inevitable glitches and challenges that pop up in online learning environments and life are smoothed out when instructors are flexible and responsive.  And, students also are more grounded and engaged—and learn more effectively—when they have the opportunity to provide feedback and help shape the course.

Specific techniques for assuring clear organization include:

    • Asking students for regular weekly feedback on what is working and not working in the course
    • Using small stakes assessments and assignments to track students’ progress, surface issues, and make adjustments
    • Don’t set it and forget it.  Instructors can frame online learning as set and self-sustaining where they would consistently adjust in a face-to-face course.  Be mindful of acting on feedback
    • Using weekly that ask students to reflection and tie together key learnings

Dennis A. Trinkle is the Director for the Center of Information and Communication Sciences (CICS) and Director of the Applied Research Institutes at Ball State University.  Dr. Trinkle brings a diverse multi-sector leadership background to his leadership of CICS, where he also holds the rank of Professor of Information Sciences and Communication.  Prior to joining Ball State, Dr. Trinkle served as the system executive, provost and chief academic officer for the 12 campus Harrison College system.

Dr. Trinkle has served leading institutions across the higher education, corporate, and government sectors, including serving as the chief executive officer of IHETS, chief information officer, associate vice president for academic affairs, and Tenzer Professor of Information Technology for DePauw University, and CEO for multiple technology companies and non-profit organizations.

Trinkle is the author and editor of 16 books and more than 50 articles on entrepreneurship, technology, leadership, teaching and learning, and history.  He earned a bachelor’s degree, from DePauw University, an MBA in technology management from the University of Phoenix, and a M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati.  He resides in Indianapolis with his wife, Kristi, and two sons, JT and Nathan.


Edu Alliance Group, Inc. (EAG) is an education consulting firm located in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and Bloomington, Indiana USA. We assist higher education institutions worldwide on a variety of mission critical projects. Our consultants are accomplished university / college leaders who share the benefit of their experience to diagnose and solve challenges.

EAG has provided consulting and successful solutions for higher education institutions in Australia, Egypt, Georgia, India, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Nigeria, Uganda,  United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

Edu Alliance offers higher education institutions consulting services worldwide. Our US office specializes in assisting universities on international projects and partnerships. If you like to know more how Edu Alliance can best serve you, please contact Dean Hoke at dean.hoke@edualliancegroup.com 

SEVP modifies temporary exemptions for non immigrant students taking online courses during fall 2020 semester

July 12, 2020 – Edu Alliance asked Ken Salomon, co-chair of the Thompson Coburn LLP Lobbying & Policy Group and a member of the Edu Alliance Advisory Council and Katie Wendel, counsel in Thompson Coburn’s higher education practice group to give our readers their insight on the recent actions by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) published Broadcast Message 2007-01 – COVID-19 and Fall 2020, related to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (“SEVP”).  F-1 and M-1 Visas allow international students to study full-time in the United States, and typically only allow non-immigrant students to count one online class per term toward their course of study. Due to COVID-19, SEVP instituted a temporary exemption regarding the online study policy for the spring and summer semesters. This policy permitted F- and M-Visa students to take more online courses than normally allowed for purposes of maintaining their F-1 and M-1 non immigrant status during the COVID-19 emergency (including fully online programs during that time).

The following is the news release issued by ICE:

SEVP changes July 6 2020

With the Broadcast Message, SEVP has indicated that non-immigrant students studying in the U.S. using an F-1 or M-1 Visa will not be permitted to remain in the United States if their program is held entirely online for the fall semester. SEVP stated that some flexibility will continue for schools that adopt an in-person or hybrid model for Fall 2020, but will not continue for students in the United States studying at schools operating entirely online.  At present, there is no clear guidance regarding how much of a course must be on-ground to be “hybrid.”

New students beginning programs this fall will not receive visas if their school plans to operate online-only.  Students who are already enrolled are required to transfer to a school offering at least some in-person classes or leave the country (where they are permitted to continue their courses online).

Schools that will be entirely online or will not reopen for Fall 2020 must notify SEVP no later than Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Schools that will offer an in-person or hybrid program for Fall 2020 must notify SEVP of their plans by August 1, 2020.  These deadlines put intense pressure on schools to decide how they will move forward under these changes.  Many schools are contemplating hybrid methods, but are reluctant at this point in time to commit to requiring students, faculty and staff to return to campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  This decision is especially hard when schools found success operating online over the last four months and have no other reason to require attendance in person until local, state and national health officials say it is safe to do so.

F-1 and M-1 non-immigrant visas allow international students to study in the U.S. within specific parameters.  As part of these programs, higher education institutions track sponsored students, ensuring their presence in the U.S. complies with relevant law and regulation.  The prohibition on F-1 and M-1 students participating in online-only educational programs is intended to further compliance, as well as national security.  This week, with most schools between terms, SEVP has revived its prohibition on F-1 and M-1 students enrolling in online-only curriculum’s.

Many argue that the exemption SEVP put in place in the spring should remain in place as the country continues to grapple with COVID-19.  In fact, Harvard, M.I.T and the University of California have all filed lawsuits against the federal government to try to block this policy shift for fall of 2020.  Harvard and M.I.T. claim that this has put higher education institutions in “the untenable situation of either moving forward with their carefully calibrated, thoughtful, and difficult decisions to proceed with their curricula fully or largely online in the fall of 2020 … or to attempt, with just weeks before classes resume, to provide in-person education despite the grave risk to public health and safety that such a change would entail.”

In addition to the logistical problems schools face with this change, many schools could face a substantial revenue loss from their large international student population.  Analysis from the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers finds that international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities contributed $41 billion and supported 458,290 jobs in the U.S. economy during the 2018-2019 academic year.

For further information from SEVP on this announcement, please see the FAQ issued by the agency on July 7, 2020. For further information or questions regarding the announcements or steps towards compliance by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) concerning the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), contact Katie Wendel at Thompson Coburn.

Update July 14, 2020. Multiple News outlets have reported The Trump administration rescinded a policy that would have stripped visas from international students whose courses move exclusively online amid the coronavirus pandemic. https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/507293-trump-administration-rescinds-policy-to-strip-visas-from-foreign


katie-wendel head shotKatie Wendel is counsel in Thompson Coburn’s higher education practice group. She handles a wide variety of regulatory and transactional work for the nonprofit and for-profit higher education sector, including online education programs, and has extensive knowledge of the laws and policies affecting colleges and universities. In addition to her comprehensive regulatory work, Katie represents higher education institutions and investors in the postsecondary sector. She works with state, federal, and accrediting agencies on behalf of colleges and universities and helps her clients maintain compliance with complex agency rules and standards.

ken-salomon 2nd head shotKen Salomon is a co-chair of the Thompson Coburn LLP Lobbying & Policy Group and serves on the Edu Alliance Group Advisory Council. He has spent his entire legal career in the public and private sectors in Washington, DC and has a thorough understanding and appreciation of how lobbying can advance client needs and interests. He has helped clients develop and implement winning lobbying strategies by crafting and implementing innovative approaches to affect the formation of public policy in the U.S. Congress and the administration. Ken is an elected member of the Ethics Committee of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Edu Alliance also thanks from Thompson Coburn, Kelly Simon, lead immigration partner, and Aaron Lacey, head of higher ed legal and regulatory practice for contributing to the article.

 

cropped-edu-alliance-logo-square.jpgEdu Alliance Group, Inc. (EAG) is an education consulting firm located in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and Bloomington, Indiana USA. We assist higher education institutions worldwide on a variety of mission critical projects. Our consultants are accomplished university / college leaders who share the benefit of their experience to diagnose and solve challenges.

EAG has provided consulting and successful solutions for higher education institutions in Australia, Egypt, Georgia, India, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Nigeria, Uganda,  United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

Edu Alliance offers higher education institutions consulting services worldwide. Our US office specializes in assisting universities on international projects and partnerships. If you like to know more how Edu Alliance can best serve you, please contact Dean Hoke at dean.hoke@edualliancegroup.com