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How Online Colleges Can Support Students Who Aren’t Comfortable With Technology

The first challenge to digital learning, above all, is making sure that students have the technology they need. They can’t try online learning if they can’t get online, or if their equipment is incompatible with course software. 

To solve this challenge, Calbright provides a device lending library. Students who need laptops and wifi hotspots can get them, for free, while they’re students. 

But once they have them, there’s a more fundamental challenge: a new survey from The College Innovation Network (CIN) makes it clear that students who don’t feel confident in their ability to use technology are much less likely to succeed in online college. 

These findings are supported by Calbright’s own student support staff, who say that one of the biggest hurdles some students have is anxiety about unfamiliar technologies.  If they don’t believe they can learn how to use their digital classrooms, they’re going to have a harder time learning in those classrooms.

“At the beginning, they have a lot of systems that they’ve never seen before, like our online portal or Slack,” says Calbright Academic Tutor Alejandro Clark. “Some students are really advanced and just knocking these things down and getting through it, but I also have students who are completely new to this kind of technology. It’s my job to show them around, to be there and talk them through everything, and once the students start to understand our model and the systems we use, it gets a lot easier and even becomes a comfortable environment for them.”

Confidence with technology “is a pretty strong predictor of lots of academic outcomes for students,” study author Nicole Barbaro said. “We can’t forget that we have to help them learn how to use these technologies, so they can get the most out of their learning experiences.” 

At Calbright, learning how to use new technologies is essential to the students’ own goals: they want to transition their careers into technology. So Calbright has developed its own processes for increasing what the report calls “EdTech Self-Efficacy” in our students. 

The CIN study makes several recommendations for ways colleges can increase students’ EdTech Self-Efficacy, such as introducing online tutorials and having faculty explain why different systems are used. Calbright does that, but it also takes several steps more. We take a “high touch” approach to their technical education: we don’t just give students tutorials, we have student support specialists who will take those tutorials with them. We don’t just give them forums to ask questions, we have Student Support and Academic Success staff on call to offer one-on-one sessions where students can ask questions about the technology they’re using, and get the guidance they need.  

We’ll do this over and over again, until students don’t just learn how to use these specific programs, but feel confident in their ability to learn new technologies. Students get their EdTech Self-Efficacy by doing, on their own pace, with the help they need.

“The most common fear students have when they start at Calbright is that they think: ‘it’s an online college, so they’re just going to throw me into the internet and I’ll be all by myself,’” Alejandro, the Calbright Academic Tutor, says. “So they’re really surprised when they realize: it’s online, but it’s actually much more like a one-on-one teaching environment, which they’ve always wanted. You’re not doing it alone.”

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