How to Build a Virtual Student Support Network
Why is a student support network a good idea, and how can you start one?
- Focus on building tech skills: Expand skillsets and provide tech tools to all students, even those who aren’t in tech-related fields.
- Offer the same support for everyone: Remember that online students only have a different format they’re learning in and should be treated the same as any other student.
- Provide mental health resources: Online learners may feel more isolated and uncertain, so provide resources and support for their mental health.
- Include health and wellness initiatives: Students will be more satisfied when they have outlets for better exercise, meditation, and nutrition.
- Provide plenty of social outlets: Plan game nights or group activities so students can connect in meaningful ways.
- Involve students in decision-making: Ask for feedback so you know what students want and what’s not working for them.
The COVID-19 pandemic created many new challenges for higher education learners. The crisis forced students to complete their coursework at home, and it’s harder than ever for them to engage with their peers. Students depend on virtual learning and socializing experiences more now than ever before.
Student support networks provide a much-needed remedy to the isolation remote students may experience, especially when virtual learning is going to stay around long after social distancing restrictions are gone. Even before the pandemic, millions of American students were tuning into class remotely, participating in distance education courses to get their college degrees.
What are student support networks?
Support systems are communities of individuals who offer guidance, encouragement, assistance, resources, and other forms of support. As with family or friends, student support networks offer these benefits to fellow students and include opportunities for socialization and connection.
Online students often don’t get the same level of interaction and support that their in-person counterparts may. Due to this, they may experience greater instances of:
- Feelings of isolation or being left out
- Struggles with time management or distractions
- Lack of engagement in courses and school activities
- Technical challenges
- Motivation battles
- Lack of meaningful social interactions
- Struggles to understand expectations from instructors and peers
While some of these challenges aren’t unique to virtual students, they can be magnified and worsened when students aren’t going into the classroom in person.
Student support networks thus provide resources catered specifically to these students. These support systems focus on engagement initiatives, study help and resources, social events, online chats and forums, technological help, and much more.
6 tips to develop virtual student support networks
How do you go about building a student support network when widespread online learning is still pretty new? Follow these six tips to get started in the right direction.
1. Focus on building tech skills
Online learners need a different skillset to get the most out of their courses. They often have to adapt to unfamiliar technology quickly. Think about the kinds of technologies they need access to. What devices should they be using? What kind of platforms and storage systems will be required?
Give webinars and trainings about remote learning best practices, including tools and tricks they need to succeed in a learn-from-home environment. Make sure students always know who they can contact when they have an issue. These resources should be offered to all students, not just those in tech-focused courses.
2. Offer the same support for all student types
Remember that online students should not be viewed any differently than in-person learners. They should receive the same level of support and guidance as any student group. Think of the online component as the way they’re getting their education, not the type of student they are.
3. Provide mental health resources
Throughout the pandemic, people have been struggling a lot with mental health. Online students, especially when feeling isolated, may need a bit more support. Make sure you provide the student support network with plenty of outlets and resources should they need them. This may include a free counseling program for students and phone numbers or local organizations to call if they are experiencing severe symptoms. Sometimes just offering safe spaces where students can connect and share can do wonders.
4. Include health and lifestyle initiatives
Another way to help virtual students succeed is to ensure they have access to health and wellness resources beyond mental health. This could be gym access or discounts, yoga classes, meditation resources, nutrition information sessions, guidance on how to get better sleep or reduce stress, and more.
5. Provide plenty of social outlets
A major benefit of student support networks is offering the network itself. Students should have plenty of opportunities to meet other students, share their experiences, talk about school, and collaborate. Events may include game or movie nights, social hours, meet and greets, or specific industry networking events. Plan online events for groups within the network with similar interests, whether based on their majors or something unrelated to academics, like a shared hobby.
6. Involve students in decision-making
The only way you’ll really know what students want, and whether your initiatives are working, is to ask them. Send out surveys assessing their interest in a student support network and what resources and programs they’d find most helpful. Ask for their feedback about any events, webinars, or trainings they attended. What do they think could be improved? Is the network important to them? Is it providing resources they can’t get elsewhere? Every step of the way, involve students. This way you can keep improving the support program.
These six tips will help you create a student support network that engages remote students in new ways and sets them up for success at your school.
Take engagement a step further with KWALL
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When you’re ready to get started with KWALL, reach out to the team to learn more about our higher ed web strategy services.