OLC Innovate Reflections | Test Driving Online Learning

This is the second of my reflections on my top 3 sessions at OLC Innovate. In this session, Mitchell Farmer of IU-Bloomington discussed how a team of marketing professionals, admissions staff, advisors, faculty, and instructional designers worked together to develop the “test drive” experience for prospective students. I was interested in this topic because I am in the beginning stages of working on a similar initiative at my campus, although we intend to incorporate noncredit community education opportunities into ours.

Mitchell explained that there were two sides of this project. The first was a sneak peek of sorts into what being an online student at IU-Bloomington would be like, almost like an orientation. The second part was the actual course previews for current and prospective students. Mitchell offered some really insightful suggestions for undertaking similiar initiatives on your own. His first recommendation was to bring everyone to the table who could possibly have a potential contribution relevant to the goals of the experience. This seems relatively straightforward, but asking advisors to share input on what should go into the online student orientation experience based on what they heard from their current students about online courses sparked a vibrant conversation in the audience about how advising professioinals are really underutilized in this regard.

When considering where to start with such a project, Mitchell suggesting asking one’s team “Who do you like working with? Who do you want to highlight?” The chances are that people who already have good practices that are worth showing off are easier to win over and get buy-in from. In addition, these are people who already have good working relationships with the individuals who would be working to put the experiences together (a.k.a. the IDs). Mitchell also mentioned that these instructors would likely be more persuaded by the idea of having their work recognized in this way. He also highly encouraged talking to advising and admissions professionals to find out what aspects of online courses students commonly bring up. Include something that students commonly ask about or have anxiety about makes the test drive a useful experience and helps lighten the load of unprepared students.

He also made sure to express that it was important to include student testimonials/excerpts from course surveys and SRTEs, or faculty testimonials/reflections to accompany the courses that are in the test drive and show prospective students that their peers were successful and had good things to say about their experiences. Mitchell also recommended to have faculty record video introducing themselves & their expertise in a casual environment, like an office, as a way to situate the test drive experience. This kind of video gives students an idea of what they’d encounter if they came to the faculty’s office hours.

Mitchell did offer some things to beware of when undertaking a project like this, such as looking out for accidental exposures of active quizzes and assessments. When faculty give content, it’s important to ask if the quizzes are still being used, and also to double check that no student work is accidentally being exposed in a way that would violate FERPA. He also stressed the importance of making sure the courses chosen are accurate representations of the university’s quality and range. He said, “don’t let marketing people make things look better than they are,” and shared an anecdote about how the marketing team wanted to entirely re-shoot a course’s videos to make them better. Everyone agreed in the end that being accurate was more important that being glossy and perfect. As a precaution, a disclaimer regarding how accurately the test drives reflect the true experience should also be considered when attempting a preview expereince for students to avoid any potential problems down the road.

When done well, Mitchell summarized that the test drives could serve many purposes. The catalogue exposes students to a range of options they may not have been aware of previously. The student testimonials can be reused for marketing purposes, and the site itself can be used as a recruitment tool because it requires users to create a guest account unique to them. This lets IU Online know who’s looking at their course offerings and gives valuable marketing data.

As someone in the planning stages of an intitiative like this, I found this session really helpful. It was presented in a “looking back, this is what really worked” format. I think the tips around who to work with and how to set it up technically are really good to start with, and using student testimonials is something that I don’t know if I would have thought of on my own. This project will be a neat flex of my abilities because I’ll be able to design with more intention than I get to in a regular course.