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Online Degrees

Part of Western Governors University

March 19, 2020

Online University Experience

WGU Indiana reacts to COVID-19.

Best practices for distance learning Q&A with Program Mentor Lori Ellwanger.

Student at home, on a laptop

WGU Indiana is supporting students and universities affected by COVID-19 by sharing distance learning resources that WGU has cultivated over its 20-plus years as a leader in high-quality online education.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as of March 18, there are more than 7,000 confirmed and presumptive COVID-19 cases in the United States. 

As a safety measure for students and faculty, traditional four-year colleges have begun transitioning to online classes, or e-learning, to limit the potential spread of COVID-19. 

WGU has been a fully online university since its launch in 1997, with WGU Indiana arriving as the first state affiliate in 2011. While WGU has never offered in-person classes, the university has created high-quality online learning experiences that meet or exceed in-classroom instruction. At the forefront of the student experience at WGU are the many program mentors that guide students from their enrollment date through their graduation day. 

WGU Indiana Program Mentor Lori Ellwanger has been with WGU Indiana since 2010. Recently, Ellwanger leaned on her experience working with students who complete their degrees exclusively online at WGU Indiana and shared the best practices for college students who are transitioning to e-learning amidst the Coronavirus outbreak.

Ellwanger recommended four best practices for traditional college students transitioning to online, remote learning: 

  • Students should maintain their normal class schedule and routine.
  • Build a support system of classmates, friends and roommates and hold each other accountable.
  • Stay committed and adapt to changes.
  • Celebrate small successes during the transition to online learning.

Q: What does a program mentor do?

Ellwanger: A lot of our role really is being an academic advisor and a life coach. A lot of students come to us having some college (experience) but haven’t finished. Now, they’re juggling life. They have children, they’re working, and now they’ve taken on school. 

Q: What can students at traditional colleges do to make sure they’re successful in their transition from the classroom to the online experience

Ellwanger: If they keep in mind that they do already have a schedule, then they should keep that schedule. We don’t know how the universities will be presenting material. We don’t know if the professors are going to say you have English on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 11 and that’s when you log in and I’m teaching. But the students are able, even if they have access to the professor at random times, to still keep their schedule to some extent and plan on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11-12 and if they normally do the homework on Tuesday and Thursday evenings, then they should still do their homework at that time.

Q: How can students stay on top of their studies now that they’re isolated and no longer in the social setting of a classroom?

Ellwanger: I think (accountability) is vital. These are unprecedented times. It’s not anything that any of us have gone through before. So, for the students at a traditional campus, they’re already used to communicating via technology. This is not an unknown. So, to connect with a roommate, a friend or someone in a class and say ‘hey, let’s get through this together’ and hold each other accountable, I think that’s great. Make sure you’ve got support around you. Someone who is going through the same thing you’re going through that you can stay connected with. Staying connected and supporting one another is important. 

Q: What key advice would you give to a student making the transition to online learning:

Ellwanger: It’s important that they remain committed, committed to being successful and finishing out their term or semester, committed to learning what they need to learn to move forward. And also to be adaptable. Those two things go hand-in-hand. If they’re committed to that general belief, ‘I will be successful regardless of what’s happening around me,’ well now they’re adaptable. Instead of meeting up to study after class, now it’s FaceTime. 

Q: What are some of the little things traditional college students can do to be a successful e-learner? 

Ellwanger: Celebrating small successes is important. Because everything looks so different, especially in the beginning. When we try something new, it’s all about baby steps. For somebody who is now thrust into this e-learning situation, let’s celebrate that you have your (remote learning) schedule set up, let’s celebrate that you figured out how to make your room look like your dorm so that it feels familiar. 

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