There is wide recognition that induction should not be limited to the pre-arrival or pre-teaching period of preparation, but rather an ongoing process which extends during the initial stages of teaching and learning with the amount of time varying for each student.
So, what should an online induction contain and how can it link with any centrally provided induction or social activities?
Consideration for different learners
Firstly, it is important to remember that all students, regardless of the year of study, will need support from September. First year student students will have arrived in HE through varying educational and work-based paths so will need support with understanding how they can succeed studying online at a university level.
Any induction support should be designed to meet the specific needs of the different student groups. For example, non-traditional students, mature students and part-time students may require different support to the traditional college leavers and returning students.
It may be possible to start your induction with a self-assessment of the student's needs. This could be a questionnaire that helps the student home in on the priority areas in need of development over the next few weeks and months.
Students from all backgrounds may need support with using the VLE in ways that they may not have done previously. Embedding links to help resources either from VLE suppliers or your institutions learning technology or IT teams will help students to quickly access the support they need.
Building a community
One of the most significant differences between on-campus and online environments is the ease at which a community can form on-campus vs online. On-campus, the buildings, services and environment are created to support students to socialise and build a sense of community. From a teaching perspective, on-campus students will naturally come together and will come to you to engage in teaching and learning activities. However, whilst online, building a sense of community amongst students requires much more proactive support from teaching staff and you will need to actively reach out to your students to engage them in teaching and learning activities.
This means staying in regular contact through communication channels, proactively encouraging participation in group work and discussion forums and creating opportunities for students to connect both synchronously and asynchronously. Using your live teaching sessions to encourage student interaction and peer learning can also be very effective and is an ideal opportunity to support community engagement.
Planning community building activities at the early stage of any course is very important, as once the community has established it can be self-managed. If not established early, it can be very difficult for it to grow and develop later.
Sense of belonging (SoB)
A sense of belonging relates to a sense of connectedness, mattering and being valued. Research from Tinto (1993) and O’Keaffe (2012) suggest that SoB is related to improved academic engagement and achievement, a heightened sense of confidence and self-efficacy.
Developing SoB in early stages of an online learner's experience is particularly important as this is a time where students will be looking to understand how they fit within the learning experience and what the value of their own contribution is. Supporting SoB can also help to ease concerns around loneliness, isolation and disconnection which can come with studying online.
Similarly to supporting a sense of community, encouraging students to engage with learning activities, reaching out to students who may be struggling to make their voice heard and facilitating open and risk-free dialogue are all ways in which you can help to support a sense of belonging. Equally, offering opportunities for students to contribute to assessment approach and shape the way the course is delivered helps to provide the student with a sense of involvement which enhances their SoB.
O'Keeffe, P. (2013) A sense of belonging: Improving student retention, College Student Journal, 47(4), 605-613.
Tinto, V. (1993) Leaving College: Rethinking the Causes and Cures of Student Attrition. Second Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.