Online learning can be an isolating experience for some students.
To promote engagement, Fort Hays State University launched a digital space for its online learners to connect with one another and their faculty members. Tiger-2-Tiger allows for asynchronous posts and follow-up from students to learn, grow and share their experiences with peers in a safe and easy way.
Tiger-2-Tiger works like a text-based social media platform (think Facebook or LinkedIn) where other students or campus members can react or respond to other posts. The site also allows for moderation, staff and faculty member interaction, and content-based support.
The need: Connecting with students on campus has a lower barrier to entry compared to digital learning settings, says Andrew Feldstein, assistant provost of teaching innovation and learning at the Kansas-based university. Students attempting to engage with peers online might feel more uncertainty or have a higher level of perceived risk due to a lack of nonverbal cues.
“Something as simple as eye contact can be a catalyst for joining in a conversation,” Feldstein explains. “There are also plenty of options for how, when and where that conversation might continue. In an online setting, it’s far more complicated.”
The launch: To promote engagement, FHSU leaders wanted to create a new setting for students to connect on their own terms, in their own time about academic and nonacademic topics.
Tiger-2-Tiger launched in early 2021. The first iteration was a digital learning community focused around course content. The platform, hosted on InScribe, allowed students to ask and respond to each other’s questions and motivate one another, as well as receive help from their course instructors, Feldstein explains.
The link to Tiger-2-Tiger lived on the student-facing learning management system homepage. The site itself had topic categories—including Courses and Coursework, Hello From Home, and Homework Help—to guide discussions.
Beyond making it accessible, university leaders have promoted the platform on FHSU’s website and created incentives for students who participate.
The response: Many students found the platform comfortable for chatting with their peers. Engagement has been high, with around 15 percent of all online learners logged in to Tiger-2-Tiger each month since launch, Feldstein says. “Within days of going live, online students from Kansas to Tibet were logging in and reaching out.”
A student survey from November found online learners who participated in Tiger-2-Tiger felt more connected to other students compared to peers who did not.
University leaders have also polled students to understand how they use Tiger-2-Tiger and their evolving needs on the site. Student feedback has grown more targeted and specific as they became more familiar with the site, providing insight for administrators, Feldstein says.
The upgrade: Student feedback revealed students wanted more control of their conversations. They could already talk synchronously with moderators or faculty members. But they also want to talk to their peers with real-time chat or video calls.
It seems that while online students aren’t “enamored with required online video chats, they want to be able to connect when they sense a need for more direct interaction,” Feldstein says.
FHSU is integrating InScribe and InSpace to allow for more live conversations between learners. New features will be rolled out to students in the near future.
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