Wednesday, October 01, 2014


Online Student Life

Most campus-based colleges have some form of a “student activities” or “student life” office.  That office runs a slate of programs for students, ranging from co-curricular to extracurricular to just-for-fun.  (Rule of thumb: the office that runs “Spring Fling” is Student Life.)  The idea is to help students blow off steam, connect with each other, connect with the college, and engage more with the world.  It’s an ambitious agenda, often run on a shoestring, and I salute the people who do it well.

Astute readers will notice the phrase “campus-based” in the above paragraph.  

Has anyone seen a college do a good job of providing some sort of student life for online students?

Not yet, and it's frustrating. And I say that as someone who's getting her Master's degree online. I'm somewhat regularly barraged with information about how to get involved - GSAs, meetings for grad students, social events, and the like, which would be lovely to attend did I not live in another state 500 miles away. (Many of my classmates live much further away from that - the east coast...Thailand...) I wish there were a way to get myself off that list; I don't even read those e-mails.
As one who had taken a number of online courses, I have to say no to any "student life" for online students. It's unfortunate, I feel it would go a long way to helping students feel more connected.
As one who has taken a number of online courses, I have to say no to any "student life" for online students. It's unfortunate, I feel it would go a long way to helping students feel more connected.
Working adults may (or may not) need to feel more connected to their fellow on-line and FTF students. Clearly, the IHE's they are enrolled in would like them to feel more connected to those IHE's, for reasons both altruistic and practical. But full-bore student life is an iffy proposition for on-line students not just because they're hard to reach but also because they may not be responsive to even the most promising techniques. Speaking as one who has both taken and taught on-line courses.

Do online-only students want Student Life activities? I mean, has any school/department/whatever tried surveying their population to find out if there's a desire? And, if so, how the students would like to see it work?

At my institution, most of the online-only students are also dealing with full-time work and/or family care situations. Very few of them express interest in more campus-related activities in their lives; they want the credential and then the next step in their lives. But that's anecdotal. I'd like to know if anyone's tried to pin it down with the needles of data.
I know when I went back to university, after nearly a decade away, the 'student life' activities were just annoying. I didn't care about school chants and cheers, I wasn't interested in consuming lots of cheap alcohol, etc — I wanted to get my degree and get a better job.

My physics prof said we were the first class he'd had where the majority were adults returning to university. It threw him for a loop at first, as he was used to much younger students without non-school experiences.

I think the university hadn't realized how much the demographics had shifted. Or they didn't care.
This post was a while ago, but I wanted to dig it back up and comment on it anyway. I'm in an online master's program and as other commenters have suggested, there is little in the way of "student life" for us.

They are trying, though. The university I attend is a big state school located in the Certified Middle of Nowhere, and as far as the main campus is concerned, online students don't exist. But they have a satellite campus near a big city, and I get a lot of contact from that campus. I've lately gotten emails inviting me to play badminton and basketball there.

I don't live near that campus, but even if I did, I wouldn't likely go play badminton. As others here have already said, with the responsibilities of work and kids, I just don't have a lot of time. And I'm not really interested in the same things an unencumbered 19 year old might be interested in.

However - if I lived near that campus and they had a meet up at a bar/restaurant? Nothing rowdy, just a nice chance to socialize with other adults the way adults socialize? I really think I'd try to find the time. During my degree program, I've had to complete a few group projects, and during those projects, I've *loved* interacting with my peers. Even if it was just email/chat/skype. They were great people and we had a lot to talk about. To meet them in person and have a beer? Yes! I'd even get a babysitter for that.

Not sure how you could rope in people who live far away on that, though. A non-trivial number of our students are military, some on active duty. One of my group members was in Afghanistan this summer. I don't know how you're ever going to involve him in student life. It's a hard problem.

I want to be more connected to my school. I like the idea of feeling passionately about my alma mater. But part of going with an online program is willingly giving up that connection in favor of convenience.
I'd wanted to pipe in and echo what the author of the most recent comment has said. Even as a 19-year-old I wouldn't have been interested in student government meetings, badminton, poetry readings, etc. I currently teach at a community college in which many 19-year-olds also hold down (often full-time or multiple part-time) jobs; folks out here tend to get married on the younger side, too, so there's another layer that wouldn't necessarily apply to folks in parts of the country where one isn't nudged to get married at 21.

I got married older - mid-30s - and did my undergrad in my late 20s (graduating when I was 31). Not being married at that point meant that even though I was relatively unencumbered, I didn't want to do those things. As noted, the interests of 19-year-olds tend to differ from the over-30 crowd.

But dinner? If that were possible, I'd love that, too. Clearly I'm not going to travel 500 miles for a dinner meeting with classmates, but if I were taking online classes for a degree at a local college, then I would be inclined to find a way to go. I think, though, that there's still a mindset of the under-25-grad student, who may or may not be married, isn't as likely to have children (as someone who might be even a few years older), etc.

I don't see a good way of doing this for distance students. We're non-entities.
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