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The importance of induction courses in online international programmes.

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A common assumption when launching online programmes aimed at global audiences is that, provided the potential applicants fulfil the entry requirements (e.g. English language requirements, academic qualifications, etc.) they are already well prepared to start their online studies. Yet this is a dangerous assumption.

My experience leading the delivery of online international programmes is that, international students come from diverse education systems and may not be aware of the skills required when studying online, a delivery model that some students may not be familiar with. Hence the importance of the induction course.

What are the benefits of having an induction course in an online international programme?

The purpose of an induction course is twofold:

  • To make new students aware of the type of skills and knowledge that they need to develop to be successful in their studies.
  • To inform those new students about the resources and support provided by the programme to help students develop those skills.

The induction course is essentially the gateway to everything students need to know before they start their courses.

When developing an online induction course, we need to address three key questions:

  • What topic/contents should the course cover?
  • How much support would the induction course require in terms of academic, technology and admin support?
  • What sort of interventions/remedial plan can we put in place for those students who require additional help?

Julie Andrews would say, let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start: the course topics.

What topic/contents should an induction course include?

When designing induction courses, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel or work in silos. Your induction course can be built upon existing high-quality materials already available in your institution. You only need to repurpose those resources providing a digital narrative to students. Likewise, other colleagues may benefit from your induction course and repurpose it for their own requirements. These are the benefits when educators work as a community of practice.

The induction course should typically cover topics such as:

  • Technology for studying online (and include minimum requirements to study online).
  • Digital literacy.
  • Academic, organisational and time-management skills.
  • Referencing and scholarship.
  • Library resources.
  • Other students support services etc.

Some induction courses also mention academic regulations, deferrals and other aspects that are usually covered in the Student Handbook. My advice is to keep the induction course concise providing links to the relevant resources for further information. As a rule of thumb, an induction should be completed in a couple of hours, including any coursework.

As mentioned before, the costs of writing the course can be reduced by repurposing any resources that your colleagues may have already developed as well as using Open Educational Resources (OER). 

The costs of providing academic support can also be reduced if you include self-assessment methods in which students can self-assess different sets of skills, comparing their answers with a model answer or generic feedback. Activities based on self-assessment can save the tutor’s time while underpinning students’ assessment literacy, a skill that students will need to develop to understand the assessment methods of their academic courses.

Admin and technology-related costs for running an induction course are usually low provided the course is delivered via the institutional Virtual Learning Environment (VLE)/learning platform and the enrolment procedures are integrated with the institution’s Management Information Systems (MIS).  Under those assumptions, admin support can be kept to a minimum of a couple of hours per week, just to monitor student progress through the course. Most VLEs in the market include reporting tools that can facilitate this task.  

The induction course can also include ‘getting-started-with’ and troubleshooting guides in which students can test if they have the hardware and software requirements to run the technologies and web tools that will be employed in their online studies. Including technology-testing activities in the induction course can reduce the costs of supporting technology in the long term and will take certainly take away the stress of having to fix technology problems while running synchronous or asynchronous activities in a live course.

Early interventions: what to do and who to contact?

In the induction course, you should make clear to the students who they should contact:

  • For any queries relating to the learning activities, topics or the coursework.
  • For any problems relating to the learning platform or the learning technologies used in the course.

If the induction course is monitored by an online tutor or course administrator, this staff member is usually the ‘first-port-of-call’. Otherwise, students may be directed to different addresses depending on the type of help that they need (i.e. technology-related queries are usually diverted to technical support services while queries relating to the course topics are diverted to an academic tutor).  

Some students may find difficult to self-assess their knowledge and may require additional help. Be prepared to support these queries as self-assessment does not mean zero running costs. Provided the self-assessment coursework is well designed, my experience is that only a low percentage of the students will require additional help with the tasks (let’s estimate less than 5% of the course cohort).

The best way of implementing early interventions in an induction course is to make students aware of the help available for any gaps that they may have identified in their skills and knowledge. The induction course should make clear to students where to go and who to contact depending on the identified shortfalls.

I hope that this blog post gives you a good insight into why, when launching international online programmes, it is important to spend some time developing an induction course:  The ultimate purpose of the induction course is to let students know they are not alone if they find themselves struggling with some of the topics or skills covered, that there is  help in place at the beginning of their studies when remedial action can still be taken.

Post by Mari Cruz García, an education consultant whose expertise is the development of international programmes (online and blended learning). Currently, she works at Heriot-Watt University and is on Twitter at @soyunbotruso1.

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