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Is Your Community College Prepared for the Online Education Boom?

This fall is likely to see record levels of online enrollment as students respond to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Community colleges around the country are facing a school year that is likely to be unlike any they have experienced before. With the economy on rocky ground and the novel coronavirus casting the viability of in-person classes in doubt, many are expecting online education to take center stage for the first time in the history of higher education.

Despite these expectations, many community colleges are not fully prepared to handle the increased digital workload. While many community colleges have expanded their online offerings gradually over the years, these initiatives have often taken a backseat to programs that support students on campus.

This means that community colleges must refocus their efforts immediately to be prepared for the higher demand of online courses in the fall. Without the right preparation, they may run out of enrollment slots for their online offerings, or find themselves unable to deliver the high-quality programming their students need. Here are five steps community colleges can take to be prepared for online education in the fall.

1. Review your online learning platform and address usability concerns.

Many learners find online learning platforms strange and disorienting. This can be especially true if your system hasn’t been updated in a while. Before your courses begin in the fall, conduct a usability audit of your online education platform to spot areas that might cause confusion for students.

  • Things to look out for include:
  • Too many steps to complete a task.
  • Important information buried in subfolders where it’s hard to find.
  • Non-critical information taking up important space on the course dashboard.
  • Course forums that are hard to navigate.
  • Confusing instructions on how to submit an assignment or take a quiz.
  • Lack of feedback to confirm that an assignment was successfully submitted.

2. Create a tutorial to guide your students through the platform.

One way to cut down on confusion is to create an online orientation guide that students can take when they first enroll. These guides should show students where to access lessons, where to upload assignments, and where to participate in discussion forums. They should also show students where to find the course syllabus, where to find their gradebook, and how to contact the instructor for help.

3. Offer additional training to educators in how to teach online courses.

Online education is unlike face-to-face courses. Educators shouldn’t expect to just upload videos of their lecture and expect learners to have the same results as they would from a traditional course. Instead, educators need to think about how they should adapt their courses to the online environment—and how they can use it to their best advantage.

This may mean breaking their lectures into shorter segments so that students can consume them in shorter chunks, offering short review quizzes after each lecture, or sharing online resources in their course forum to spark discussion. Many students also feel alienated and lost by online courses, and need more teacher support to make it through. Have your teachers offer digital “office hours” where they will be available for a video call to talk through any areas where a student might be struggling.

4. Prepare your students by offering studying advice for online courses.

Many students sign up for online classes under the mistaken impression that they will be easier than face-to-face courses. Unfortunately, once they begin, it becomes clear how difficult these classes actually are. Not only are they required to master the same material, but they must do so from home, where there are more distractions, and where carving out dedicated study time is more difficult.

Be proactive in offering students study advice specifically designed for succeeding in online courses. Encourage them to prioritize their online work, to schedule enough study time, and to participate in class discussions.

5. Design in-person classes that can be easily moved online, if required.

Even if your community college plans to host face-to-face courses in the fall, it would be wise to prepare for a quick switch to an online format should a new round of stay-at-home orders make it necessary. This means your teachers should offer your students information about what to expect at the beginning of the semester, and help their students become familiar with the online interface before it becomes a requirement.

For instance, instructors might give students homework assignments that require online submission, or that involve participating in a class discussion through the online portal. This will help prepare both students and staff for the transition, should it become necessary.

Community colleges must spread the word about their online courses sooner rather than later.

Even though online education is likely to be in demand come the fall, many prospective students may not be aware of everything their community college has to offer, or what the best options are for future employment. The job market has changed drastically in the past few months, and students naturally want to choose a line of education that will be resilient to economic instability.

Now more than ever, community colleges need to lead in providing their students with high-quality information about their programs and their value for future employment.

At Aperture, we specialize in writing, designing, and distributing high-quality articles for community colleges, so that they can guide prospective students toward smart educational options. Help your students make informed decisions. Contact us today to get started.

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