Over the last several months, the Student Affairs Division in collaboration with Information Technologies at The College of St. Scholastica, embarked on an action research project that utilized instructional design strategies to develop an online community for sophomores. This project is an example of how instructional design theory can facilitate collaboration among various content experts to bridge the gap between increased student needs and limited campus resources. The vision for this project is credited to Steve Lyons, Vice President for Students Affairs, who encouraged several campus experts to investigate whether or not an online program can facilitate learning experiences that renew a student’s sense of purpose.
The online community named, “sofMORE” includes a discussion board, a sophomore slump self-assessment tool, reflection activities and resources designed to help second year students discover their interests, reflect on their values and achieve their academic goals. With the expertise of our Portal Administrator, Chris Bacigalupo, the College was able to implement this online community utilizing Ellucian’s next generation portal, Luminis 5.0.4 built on the Liferay community which supports support communities with collaboration, communication and creation tools.
The action plan for this research project involved designing and implementing a dynamic online sophomore community through the ADDIE Instructional Design Model – Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement and Evaluate. A comprehensive review of literature and several research methods served as the analysis and design phase of this research project. The development of this project includes the use of flash driven instructional software (Articulate), reflection activities written in HTML, videos, a discussion board, Google calendar; blog feeds, and targeted messaging.
The layout or design of the community consists of two tabbed environments – a Welcome tab and a Majors/Career tab that include specific information for students depending on the level of commitment-to-major selection. The Majors/Career tab also highlights the MORE theme by providing resources to help students become Motivated, Organized, Reflective, and Empowered to make informed decisions about their future.
The Welcome tab incorporates a written message that congratulates students on the completion of their first year of school and highlights the significance of this accomplishment by linking to national statistics. In this message, we utilized call out boxes to highlight the goal of the online community – to provide students with online tools and resources designed to help sophomores cope with some of the challenges sophomore students face. The message ends with a call to action and encourages students to participate in discussions, utilize the interactive assessments, review reflection activities and explore resources.
To appeal to visual and audio learners, we incorporated a short video that includes the responses from upper-class students who shared reflections of their second year experience. Tactile learners can either participate in online discussion board or utilize the online self-assessment and reflection activities. The online self- assessment was developed using Articulate instructional design software and outlines issues identified by upper-class students and scholars. This interactive assessment allows students the flexibility to select a specific issue and receive practical information and resources to assist them through various stages of development. Online learning activities were created using the backward design method. Learning outcomes that challenge students to critically examine their values and skills, financial/budgeting habits, as well as the value of networking guided the creation of these activities.
The Major and Careers page organizes existing campus resources for students who identify themselves as either very sure, somewhat sure or unsure about their major or career choice. There is also an area titled “get MORE” which connects the name of the community (sofMORE). The get MORE section includes online resources designed to Motivate, Organize, Renew, and Empower students. For example, a sofMORE Google calendar provides students the option to copy sophomore-specific events into their personal calendar. Links to relevant articles and motivational Web sites to help students to further reflect on their skills, values and interest are also included.
The implementation and evaluation of this program is in progress. Through continued collaboration with professional student affairs staff, college marketing, and information technologies, we plan to further develop the implementation plan of this project. Some preliminary ideas include incentive programs to encourage students to visit the sofMORE online community. For example, we plan to promote a Career Myths/Fact Quiz Contest where the first 10 students to post their results and share something they learned to the discussion board will receive a prize. In collaboration with our Information Technologies department, we also plan to develop an online scavenger hunt that requires students to explore different areas of the online community.
Through the use of Google Analytics, the College has the ability to evaluate the response that students have to various marketing techniques as well as determine what types of information seem to matter the most to students. This information will help the Student Affairs division further develop online tools that directly respond to students’ participation and immediate needs.
– Joelle McGovern, M.Ed. is the Assistant Director of Residential Life and Housing
at The College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, MN