Online students are at a disadvantage when it comes to accessing support services such as advising and tutoring. Likewise, navigating the campus bureaucracy for complicated processes like securing the appropriate signatures on a late add form can be an insurmountable task for a student who works full-time or lives at a distance. Students choose online because they can’t come to campus, yet many institutions still have support structures designed for residential students. A recent report by the International Data Corporation predicts that more people will be accessing the internet with mobile devices than PCs by 2016. With increased mobility, even traditional students are expecting to interact with campus services through their smart phones. Institutions that stick to brick-and-mortar models will find it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain students. Just like online courses deliver education to students where and when they need it, technology can be used to offer services to students on a schedule that meets the demands of their busy lives. Thus, at Southeast Online, we developed a Flipped Student Service Model. The model is a push verses pull system that provides students with resources just in time. Having utilizing this model at the university for more than a decade, we have seen positive student satisfaction survey results and strong retention.
The Flipped Student Service Model is a push verses pull system that provides resources to students just in time. As with a flipped classroom experience, flipped services provide day-to-day information efficiently via technology so that interactions between the student and university personnel can be focused on more personalized conversation and support. When flipping services, we used the resources we had available to create efficiencies and enhance our service offerings. One example of this is evidenced by our website redesign. As part of this process, we put the students at the center, ensuring the site language and navigation were all easily-interpreted by distance learners. Another example is our online orientation course which was designed as a free resource to distance learners to help acclimate them to our campus and processes without requiring them to be physically on site at a certain time for a traditional orientation. Some operational examples of the system include our advising database application, annual duties grid, communication matrix, common emails, and knowledge base.
The homegrown advising database allows us to track personalized information about our students including their personal GPA goals, academic and career goals, and graduation term target. The annual duties grid is a spreadsheet that tracks monthly duties of each individual team within our department. It keeps our services on track and ensures nothing is forgotten. The communication matrix is a calendar for sending "just in time" communication to distance learners. It ensures they never need to wonder "is it time to get textbooks" because they know they will receive a notification from their support specialist when the time comes. Common emails create efficiencies in our office by establishing standard email responses to our commonly asked questions. Finally, the knowledgebase is a shared place for staff in the department to share information. Front desk staff utilize it when answering student inquiries. Responding from a shared set of information ensures all students receive accurate and complete information.
With these systems in place, one-on-one interactions with students became more meaningful and less technical.
Our online undergraduate student retention now ranges between about 70-76% which is measurably higher than the average retention found in a recent study - https://olj.onlinelearningconsortium.org/index.php/olj/article/view/780. Student satisfaction surveys year-over-year indicate online students are more happy with their student support experience than students on our main or regional campuses and sites. Additionally, our staff feel positively about the experience and services they are able to provide to students utilizing this model.
This practice most closely aligns to the Student Satisfaction pillar. A description of this pillar indicates that students are most satisfied when services are "are responsive, timely, and personalized". The Flipped Student Services model was designed with those principles in mind. Perhaps no argument best indicates this models relation to student satisfaction than to see a few students' comments in regard to their experience:
"My advisor is prompt and professional. She has helped me transition from a traditional classroom student to an online student with ease. She is patient with my lack of technological skills."
"Flexible. Quickly returns emails. I take classes online while working full-time and raising a family so time is limited. My advisor is great about advising via email and gets back to me very quickly."
"The Southeast Online advising team has great knowledge, experience, and a lot of passion for the work that they do. Despite the hundreds if not thousands of students that they work with on a yearly basis, they make a person feel like they are the only ones that they are attending to. They have gone leaps and bounds to get me any information that I needed. Superb job."
One of the benefits of the Flipped Student Services model is that you identify existing resources to create efficiencies. Therefore, it is probable that an organization could flip their services without having to purchase any additional equipment.
One of the benefits of the Flipped Student Services model is that you identify existing resources to create efficiencies. Therefore, it is probable that an organization could flip their services with limited or no direct financial burden.