Amid the scramble to move in-class instruction online, we may be overlooking a critical issue — how to replicate student-to-student support online.
Katy Kappler, Co-Founder and CEO of InScribe, joined the Enrollment Growth University podcast to talk about the power of student-to-student engagement and how institutions can think about facilitating it this fall.
Why Online Programs Need Student-to-Student Connection
College is as much about connections as it is about curriculum. Classroom learning makes up just one small piece of the whole college experience. It’s the relationships students build that help them stay on track and be successful, and those relationships provide a trusted ear students can turn to when things get tough. Plus, there’s the camaraderie and fun of friendships students choose outside the classroom. When you miss all that, you miss a huge part of the college experience.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has drawn fresh attention to this problem, it’s not unique to this point in time. Since their inception, online programs have struggled with how to create an engaging out-of-the-classroom experience.
At InScribe, Katy and her team created their student-to-student-community specifically because they saw how much energy was going into innovating and replicating the classroom in a digital way and how little thought and energy was going into how to facilitate that engagement outside the classroom.
How to Facilitate an Online Student-to-Student Community
What are the advantages and benefits to creating a digital space for the community?
- Digital communities simplify the q&a process. In the best of times, when a student has a question or needs help, they rarely know where to go. Is it the registrar? Is it the bursar? Should they ask their roommate? It’s a complicated landscape and students can get shuffled around. Today, that confusion is amplified a hundred fold. Sometimes, students give up. But when you have a digital community space, you can essentially aggregate the support resources and conversations into a single location. Regardless of their question, students can go to one place and get the right answers.
- Digital communities are always available. Remember that ⅔ of students are working while learning and ¼ have kids home. These learners need a flexible space that allows them to connect easily outside of normal business hours. Add the confusing schedules and complicated home lives prevalent during the pandemic, and students may not be able to wait until the next business day or the scheduled Zoom meeting to get support.
- Digital communities provide feedback. Most student feedback comes from surveys, but these aren’t great since you only gain information from a relatively small portion of the student population at one or two times during the semester. It’s a slow, reactive process. On the other hand, a digital community creates space for real-time feedback to the institution. Students are raising their hand at the moment and letting you know what they’re thinking and feeling. Institutions can learn about what students find exciting, troubling, or challenging, and then respond to those issues.
What Makes a Successful Student Community?
When we think about a successful community that drives student engagement, we really mean the “four Ps of success” — purpose, place, people, and plan.
What is the community’s goal and purpose? You really have to be clear with the students about what the goal is, why they should go there, what they’re going to get from it, and you set up your community to reflect that value proposition.
Place is about access. How are students getting to this thing? How are they discovering it? Kate encourages a concept she calls community in context, which means to put the community where the students are already going.
And then there are people because a community is nothing if it is not made up of people. Of course, students are the focus, but you also need one or two people to play the role of community manager. Designate someone to keep engagement going in the early days while the students are still building their trust.
The final “p” stands for “plan.” How are you letting people know about the community? You can do that through announcements or email. But you’re trying to show the students that you’re excited about this concept.
If you’re thoughtful in these four areas, you can launch your community and start to get that peer-to-peer engagement you’re looking for.
How to Get Started Building an Online Community
Setting up an online community can feel overwhelming, but it’s rarely as hard as people think. If you’re working with the right partner, they can bring best practices and strategies and often get things underway in less than a week.
Also, remember that you don’t have to boil the ocean. Instead of trying to cut across the institution, pick a use case or a demographic of students, an area where you really want to move the needle and make an impact. Just start there and you can always expand out over time.
Finally, trust and empower your students. Give them the space to have conversations in these communities and play leadership roles. If you’ve got student mentors or student leadership groups, bring them in as community leaders and managers to help run the communities. You will likely be impressed by the leadership roles they assume and the impact that they can have on each other.
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