The importance of first impressions and a good start

New autumn semester has arrived and with that new online degree programme students from all around the world.  A smooth start to online studies is crucial in creating the motivation and positive vibe, as many of the students are studying online in higher education for the first time.

A short survey in 2018 and 2019 on previous online study experience showed that almost half of online degree programme students were studying online for the first time, whilst less than a quarter each stated they had taken either online or blended courses prior to entering the online degree programme, thus leaving only a fraction of those who had extensive online study experience. Therefore, it is important that students are given a good basis for starting their studies in terms of online study methods, technical tools, and collaboration online, to name a few.

One way to give students a kick-start to their online studies is to hold an orientation session on campus. This gives students an opportunity to meet their peers and get to know them before connecting online, which can make it easier to continue collaboration on coursework online. Also, another important aspect that speaks for holding a session on campus is BYOD, i.e. students get a chance to bring their device in and check that all school systems and programmes work properly in preparation for online study. In addition, a kick-start to first semester courses can ensure students understand pedagogical choices of online study.

On the other hand, as we are talking about online degrees, it is fair to ask why not offer the orientation online as well? This is a good option for those who are not able to travel due to work or life situation and prefer to start their studies online from the beginning. With just-in-time support to gain access to tools, people and information, online orientation offers the same positive start as on-site, with even possible benefits over on-site.  An online orientation gives an authentic experience of upcoming online study and offers a good platform to test how systems work in practice. Meeting peers in the online orientation prepares them for online communication during studies, and courses start in the intended online learning platform.

Some of the questions that we can ask when preparing the students for a motivating start in online degree education are:

  • What are the first impressions of online study given in the orientation?
  • What are the first impressions given by first semester online courses?
  • What are the first impressions students get of technical tools?
  • What are the first impressions for the level of support provided?

We want students to enter their higher education path with confidence, be it online or onsite.Each piece of the puzzle is equally important in creating a start that gives online degree students keys to success in their online studies.

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