Creating a Scalable Online Orientation to Better Prepare Online Students for Success

Author Information
Dylan Herx
Institution(s) or Organization(s) Where EP Occurred: 
University of Missouri-St. Louis
Effective Practice Abstract/Summary
Abstract/Summary of Effective Practice: 

Online learning requires an additional set of skills to be successful. Not only do students need to be self-motivated and be able to manage time, but they also require the ability to learn and use new technologies. The assumptions are : students are digital natives who will naturally adapt to the online environment and usage of educational technology without much instruction; and the other required "soft skills" (time management, professional communication, etc.) of online learning are an imbued part of adulthood. In reality, students in online courses often need specific training on the LMS and other educational technology and need to be forewarned of the expectations that will promote their own success.

This led us to question if some of these stumbling blocks couldn't be addressed before the student took an online course, much in the same way a first-year experience or freshman orientation addresses some of the issues in transitioning from high school to college. From there, we designed an online course orientation provided to all students enrolled in an online course that included short segments about how to succeed, student expectations (professionalism, team work, etc.), and training videos on the various technology tools students might encounter within the university LMS.

Our goal was to determine if this could provide a low-cost effective way to mitigate some of the gaps and, ultimately, help retain and graduate online students.

Please see the attached videos for more information.

Description of the Effective Practice
Description of the Effective Practice: 

The Online Course Orientation has short informational segments about expectations and technology. Some include videos, interactive screenshots, or other digital mediums. The Orientation was created on the university LMS (Blackboard). The sections of the orientation are as follows:

  • Start Here
  • Technology (Hardware/Software)
  • Student Expectations
  • How to Succeed
  • Navigating Course Areas (LMS)
  • Assignments and Grades
  • Quizzes and Tests
  • Discussion Boards
  • Presentation Tools
  • Group Work
  • Academic Resources
  • Student Supports

Students enrolled in online classes are automatically also enrolled in the Online Course Orientation and remain enrolled for the duration of their online course. The orientation is presented in short steps, requiring the students to click "Mark Reviewed" to move on. It was designed this way so as not to overwhelm the students, thereby diminishing the likelihood that they would participate in it from the beginning. The technology tool categories are available at all times, however, so that students can visit those areas to learn or refresh on a technology (ex. VoiceThread) that is being used in their online course.

Video Overview of the Online Course Orientation:

Supporting Information for this Effective Practice
Evidence of Effectiveness: 

The Online Course orientation has been access by 6712 out of 9040 students (74%) and the average time spent per user is 1.87 hours. The total hours spent by students in the orientation is 12558.73 (as of 7/15/14).

As a better measure of effectiveness, there is a short, 4-question survey at the end of the orientation with the following questions:

  1. What concepts did you learn from the orientation?
  2. What would you change or add?
  3. Did you encounter any navigational or technological issues? If so, what?
  4. Would you recommend this orientation to other students?
    • Yes
    • Yes, with the following improvements (text box)
    • No

The results of the survey have been excellent. There have been 537 respondents to the survey so far, and of those, 93% said they would recommend the online course orientation to other students.

Additionally, many faculty have been pleased that they can redirect some student questions about technology to the Online Course Orientation instead of trying to answer them individually.

How does this practice relate to pillars?: 

Learning Effectiveness:
The Online Course Orientation(OCO) prepares students for how taking a course in an online format might require different skills and pre-constructed knowledge than a traditional course, thus providing more time for them to set up scaffolds to be successful (set up a calendar, review professional communication habits, self-reflect on past team experiences). Additionally, the technology portion "primes the pump" for the types of tools they may encounter and because the tutorials are always available, faculty can direct students to revisit the training for a tool(s) that might be used in their course.

The OCO is built in the Learning Management System already used at the university. Students are automatically enrolled (by a programming script) and the course has no limit to the number of seats. It also requires little maintenance from year to year.

Faculty Satisfaction:
Faculty anecdotally report that they are happy to not have to continually troubleshoot educational technology issues for students and that largely, they can simply point students to the tutorial videos in the OCO to help the students refresh on the technology.
Student Satisfaction:
The How to Succeed and Student Expectations sections really help students self-identify as to whether an online course is right for them. It also helps them prepare for an upcoming online course and since it is available 24/7, it can serve as a way for them to self-solve technology problems when a staff person is unavailable.

Equipment necessary to implement Effective Practice: 

LMS - free if enterprise at university
Computer - cost varies
Screenrecording software (Screencast-O-Matic, Camtasia, Kaltura, Panopto, etc.) - free to $99 depending on product used or if enterprise solution is available at university
ThingLink (image annotation software) - free
USB headset microphone - $40
Image editor - free options available

Estimate the probable costs associated with this practice: 

--Time of salaried employee to create orientation
--Computer (assumed to be provided to employee
--$150-$500 in technology hardware/software to create effective screen recording

References, supporting documents: 

Angelino, L. M., Williams, F. K., & Natvig, D. (2007). Strategies to Engage Online Students and Reduce Attrition Rates. Journal of Educators Online, 4(2), n2.

Harrell, I. L. (2008). Increasing the Success of Online Students. Inquiry, 13(1), 36-44.

Lloyd, S. A., Byrne, M. M., & McCoy, T. S. (2012). Faculty-perceived barriers of online education. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 8(1).

Ludwig-hardman, S., & Dunlap, J. (2003). Learner Support Services for Online Students: Scaffolding for success. The International Review Of Research In Open And Distance Learning, 4(1). Retrieved from

Roper, A. R. (2007). How students develop online learning skills. Educause Quarterly, 30(1), 62.

Wilson, M. (2008). An investigation into the perceptions of first-time online undergraduate learners on orientation events. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 4(1), 73-83.

Contact(s) for this Effective Practice
Effective Practice Contact: 
Dylan Herx
Email this contact:
Effective Practice Contact 2: 
Daren Curry
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