How to Create a Great Online Foundation Course
Online education is often met with resistance, especially when the student cohort is as diverse and unique as that of university transition courses. We all know that the Covid-19 pandemic completely disrupted the higher education system, but the forced opportunity it presented was to challenge our own thinking about transition courses in the online space. This change has had very positive results for our students.
Sometimes referred to as Foundation, Access or Enabling programs, bridging courses offer students who did not go directly from school to university a chance to gain the confidence and skills needed to undertake studies. undergraduate.
Doubts about online bridging courses
Redesigning a bridging course that best prepares students for today’s higher education environment requires overturning our traditional ideas about these students.
Some scholars working in bridging courses cynically view online bridging courses as merely cost-effective attempts to increase student numbers. Others identify, perhaps correctly at times, that these online options are just face-to-face programs that have been “dumped” online, without any intentional design. Some have long believed that bridge students need a traditional on-campus experience to familiarize themselves with academia.
Why are these views held in relation to bridging students? Well, many reasons.
- Not only are the students in these courses unfamiliar with academia, many of them have had previous unsuccessful educational experiences.
- Students are more likely to belong to one (or more) equity groups.
- These courses traditionally have high attrition rates, which usually climb even higher when offered online.
Provide space for successful transition of students to university
Student success cannot be left to chance or, more problematically, to privilege. Applying transitional pedagogy, more often discussed in relation to the first-year space, to core students is essential.
What helps students transition successfully? Applying Alf Lizzio’s five senses of success framework, tailored to the specific cohort, is a great place to start, and here we focus on three of those key senses:
- Build a sense of purposethrough explicit activities, which allow students to reflect on why they started their learning journey and where they hope to go with it.
- Build a sense of belongingby as high a level of engagement as possible, which allows students to connect to academia, to their peers, to their teachers or, quite simply, to a new (and unfamiliar) identity of “student”.
- Build a sense of resourcefulness. We should expect transitioning students to begin undergraduate degrees with a similar level of academic ability as other beginning students. Sometimes enabling programs may try to be rigorous in a zealous attempt to emphasize a formal academic vision, but traditional students are never exposed to such rigor before starting college. Academic literacies develop over time, but if we focus on developing resourceful students, they will learn how and where to ask for help and they will be more likely to succeed.
But how do we construct these senses in basic students? This is where the principles of transition pedagogy, in particular engagement, must be applied.
True flipped classroom approach
A diverse cohort of students requires an approach that embraces their diversity, understanding that not all students learn in the same way. This is a benefit of a true flipped classroom approach and can be achieved by providing a range of learning activities. These could include:
- short interactive videos for content delivery, which also help to check understanding
- discussion forums with sufficient teacher presence to both positively affirm students and prompt them to think more deeply or critically
- a range of question sets
- playbacks and rich media content, which enable branching scenarios.
Simple tools, such as H5P, allow these activities to have a level of interactivity much more difficult to achieve even in the very recent past. This range of self-directed learning activities gives students flexibility in terms of time and choice. For a bridging course cohort, this approach gives students the opportunity to think about how best to learn.
Activity-based synchronous learning
For some students, synchronous learning activities (online tutorials, seminars, workshops) remain the primary learning point. For many, learning live with a teacher and peers is crucial. The greater the emphasis on collaborative, discussion- or activity-based synchronous learning, the richer the learning experience. The achievement of this objective depends, in part, on the quality of the learning activities that the students have carried out outside the classroom. If interactive and engaging, students will attend the out-of-the-box synchronous sessions. Pre-class preparation and engagement allows the time spent with students in the (virtual) room to be as valuable as possible.
Once everyone gathers in the (virtual) room, providing a range of activities will help to engage with the diversity of learners. In a traditional on-campus tutorial, engagement or participation is measured by how often or how well a student speaks in class. In a virtual room, we have to change our way of thinking about participation. Yes, students can raise their hand and speak through a camera and microphone, and we can just maintain our engagement metric. However, there are many ways to participate online, and focusing on a working microphone can be very limiting for students. The design can incorporate:
- using the chat function
- launch polls or quizzes
- enable whiteboard
- collaboration on shared documents
- create working groups (without relying too much on them).
With a range of activities available, all students can find a form of engagement and communication that works for them. Once comfortable, students are more likely to learn.
For us, an intentional design, with our diverse and vulnerable cohort in mind, has shattered long-standing myths about online bridging courses. It has also resulted in significantly higher levels of student achievement. One size does not fit all when it comes to learning, and the online space offers both flexibility and choice for transitioning students, who may be those who need it most.
Jane Habner is an education specialist and coordinator of the Flinders Foundation Curriculum the Student Learning Support Service; Pablo Munguia is Associate Professor and Dean of Education at the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work; both are at Flinders University.
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