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MERLOT Journal of Online Learning and Teaching

Vol. 6, No. 1, March 2010

learning management system. Instructors are encouraged to include an orientation in their initial contact with students at the beginning of a class, but there is no requirement to do so.

Initially the college did not provide organized support for online students. Comments from online faculty about the amount of their time that was spent helping students with technical concerns inspired the college in fall 2002 to enlist students to provide that support. The helping students were enrolled in computer information science course on how to be computer support technicians. This lasted for two semesters and was abandoned in the summer of 2003 when district management assigned the district's full-time help desk staff the role of providing student support. The help desk answers many questions from students and is particularly supportive in the area of access to the learning management system and basic technical issues. However, questions related to class content are directed to instructors. Only instructors can make changes to online content, allow students to resubmit online assignments, or reset online test attempts.

Server support and application support for faculty and students does not address the academic preparation for distance education or the study skills necessary to succeed in this learning modality. One of the college's early online instructors created a new course called Online Student Success (OSS), which is designed to prepare students for this new environment. This is a fully online class, and a sample syllabus for this course is in appendix A.

OSS was first offered in fall 2002 and has two main objectives: it prepares students to succeed in the online learning environment in general and exposes them to the college's learning management system in order to help them become familiar with it. As with any software program, if Blackboard's "rules of engagement" are understood the user will have a more positive experience. After taking this class, students should not have any technical issues or basic access problems with the system in their other online courses, as they are supposed to be used to interacting with the system. It works like an in-depth orientation and by the end of the course students use each of the various tools available in Blackboard. They use the discussion board to create a community with their fellow learners, use each of the available assessment instruments, and explore the different options that instructors have for disseminating content. In other online courses that use this system, students who have met this objective will be able to concentrate on course content and not be distracted by the novelty, learning curve, and frustration involved in learning how to use new software.

Blackboard is not the only software used to support online education, and so the second objective of the course keeps this in mind by teaching students the skills that will help them in any online learning environment. Beyond the basics of where to click and how to log in, the course gives students the study skills and engenders an appreciation for the challenges unique to this milieu. This includes topics like working in groups on a project where their fellow learners are never together in the same location. Another topic is netiquette, the conventions and informal rules of electronic communication. They also learn their place in the history of instructional and technological innovation. To help them balance online learning responsibilities with their other duties, they study time management. By the end of the course, students will know the skills and habits necessary to manage effectively an online learning path, and they will be able to judge whether they want to continue along that path.

Because the motivation typically offered during

for the

this course was to help students with their









other online course that


OSS is

lasts six


Cosumnes River College currently has an eighteen-week second-six-week term. The purpose for scheduling it then be struggling in concurrent online classes.

semester, and this is to provide timely

class is taught during the help for students who may

In spring distance

2004 the college developed its






Distance Education Master Plan to provide organization for its plan's goals is to create the infrastructure to support a fully

distance education general education degree. Filling curriculum gaps and this goal, but no less important is the provision of services to distance

schedule planning is education students.

a part of Though

training in study skills new dimension. This that students are well programs.

has long been a part of student services, technology-mediated instruction adds a is especially true for online learning, and part of student services is making sure prepared to succeed in all learning modalities used by the college's instructional

This research was motivated by the questions, “Does OSS fulfill its promise? Does taking this class improve the success rate of students in their other online classes?” This investigation concentrates on what happens before those classes begin. The hypothesis of this project has two parts. First, the


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