/ / / / MAE 2014 Volume 9 Issue 6 (July)

Support From a Distance

Online education is only as good as the support services backing up the course content. How do schools go above and beyond in providing ancillary services to military students learning online? MAE asked a group of institutions to describe their methods of supporting the online student and why it is so important to have these support structures in place.


Sharon Davis
Director, Distance Education and Educational Technology
Central Texas College

Central Texas College (CTC), as one of the 29 educational institutions originally invited to participate in eArmyU in 2000, has built a distance learning student support system from the ground up. Distance learning provides great convenience and flexibility but, at the same time, presents many challenges to students.

Flexibility is key in distance education, especially for military students. Our online courses are scheduled with monthly start dates, lengths from eight to 16 weeks, and options of self-paced and non-self-paced delivery to fit with military training and deployment schedules.

One of the most important support tools for the online student is robust academic advising. Over the years, our academic advisors have identified many ways to support student success with proper guidance prior to registration.

CTC is committed to meeting the same learning objectives and providing course quality regardless of location or delivery method. We develop master online courses in our learning management system, which prescribes standard content and a similar online course structure. This provides instructors the same instructional materials that can be used for a course regardless of location or delivery method and further ensures our students receive the same quality learning experience in an online course as they would in the classroom.

Since CTC serves a large military student population, online faculty members are trained to use the learning management system and are provided a faculty handbook that includes information to familiarize them with military acronyms, military registration, and withdrawal procedures and other related topics. This helps enhance the rapport between faculty and student and provides a better understanding of the special needs sometimes required by a student serving in the military.

Many technology enhancements improve online instruction, including synchronous and asynchronous desktop conferencing, online “lab” software for homework and tutorials, student discussion boards and use of tools like wikis, blogs and journals to facilitate collaboration among students.

The Distance Education and Educational Technology department constantly searches for technology and solutions that contribute to student success and enhance the convenience and flexibility of our online courses. CTC recently pioneered “BioSig,” which uses “gesture biometrics” to validate a student’s identification during the delivery of course content.

All support services, including the bookstore, library, disability support, and math and writing tutoring, are available online. Online mentors are available to answer questions related to online courses via phone, e-mail and chat. Technical support is also available 24/7/365, thus ensuring timely responses and solutions to issues. In addition, our network of more than 140 locations on military installations worldwide offers a built-in support system to students located in those areas.


Cheryl Oliver
Assistant Dean of Online and Graduate Programs
Washington State University College of Business

Veteran students, many of whom pursue educational opportunities online, experience a unique set of challenges compared to the traditional student population. It’s a priority of Washington State University (WSU) and its Carson College of Business to make sure these students can navigate these challenges and achieve their higher education goals. In fact, this year the Carson College of Business’ online graduate business programs for veterans were ranked third by U.S. News and World Report due in part to the program’s customized support for active military and veterans alike. Every student, on-campus or online, faces questions about their higher education needs, and WSU believes it’s important to provide the same resources and programs regardless of a student’s educational experience.

As a veteran, finding the right online program and navigating the enrollment process can be a challenge. WSU’s Carson College of Business provides dedicated resources to guide veterans through the online program’s registration process, whether addressing questions around financial aid or government paperwork. Each veteran student is also assigned to a veteran administrative officer whose knowledge can help direct students into a program that best fits their needs 
and goals. Most recently, a veteran graduate from WSU’s online Executive MBA program, working to transition from the U.S. Air Force to a civilian career, was hired as manager of creative costuming and entertainment operational development at The Walt Disney Company. He attributes the skills learned from his advisors, professors and peers in the program to his successful career transition.

Many military students are changing jobs or transitioning into a civilian career, where a typical on-campus course may not fit their schedules. Given WSU’s land-grant mission and tradition of low-cost access, the Carson College of Business is well positioned to help military members advance in the ranks or transition into civilian careers by offering relevant business education within a flexible schedule. WSU’s online graduate business degree programs benefit students around the globe, including enabling active duty personnel to follow their academic interests by offering convenient course scheduling at a discounted rate.


Mary Niemiec
Associate Vice President for Distance Education and Director
University of Nebraska Online Worldwide

The University of Nebraska has a rich history of providing education to students who choose to study at a distance. Our first correspondence course was distributed by mail more than 100 years ago. In the subsequent decades and as technology has advanced, our commitment to providing access to a quality education regardless of geographic barriers has remained constant. Our fully online program offerings have grown to more than 100 and the support systems key to student success are available to those who study at a distance as well as those students who attend one of our campuses.

Currently students can register, buy books, locate and checkout library materials, review their degree plan, file financial aid, and pay their bill totally online. Additionally, our campuses have made available online programs that we know help students succeed. For example, our University of Nebraska at Omaha campus provides online writing assistance through the Writing Center and math and science assistance through the Math and Science Center. Other recent initiatives at UNO include the implementation of a fully online new student orientation and the development of an online transfer support center that, when complete, will serve as a one-stop office for transfer students. These kinds of services are critical to helping online students earn the credentials they need and want.

A significant number of our faculty teach both online and face to face. To support faculty in developing and designing courses taught fully online, a number of professional development programs specific to the skills needed are offered throughout the University of Nebraska system. Faculty also have the opportunity throughout the year to engage in dialogue with colleagues. This creates an engaged community of faculty who continually evaluate their online courses and instructional approaches to enhance the learning outcomes of our students.

It is extremely important to our campuses to ensure that our online students receive the support needed to succeed regardless of proximity. As a recognized military-friendly university (all four campuses have received this designation), we are committed to providing access to students in and outside of the United States. Whether our students are in Nebraska or deployed in remote locations, the University of Nebraska is an academic partner while they serve.


Stacey Ludwig Johnson
Associate Provost for Academic Services
Western Governors University

Western Governors University specializes in non-traditional students—those who work full time, support families and lead busy lives. All of WGU’s programs are competency-based and completely online. Competency-based education measures learning, not seat time, and allows students to study at their own pace and progress through courses when they can prove mastery of the subject. Because learning is student driven, WGU provides several resources to ensure student success.

Each student is assigned a student mentor when they begin their program. These mentors provide support and guidance by assisting students in creating degree plans, charting out their planned progress for each term, and helping them stay on track. Students have regular contact with their mentor through phone calls and emails. Instead of professors, WGU uses course mentors to help students learn and master course material. These mentors are subject matter experts who provide tutoring and additional help with course work as needed.

Books, readings and other materials students need to complete their courses are provided online for a low, flat resource fee. Because they are online, students can take their course materials wherever they go, allowing them to fit school into their lives.

Students and alumni can receive help finding and applying for jobs in their degree field through the Career and Professional Development Services Center. The center offers webinars, phone and email support, and help with writing resumes and cover letters. The Center for Writing Excellence offers students free help with writing their course papers. There is also a Math Help Line, a hotline that provides extra math help via phone and email.

Students are able to connect with each other through online course communities and social media like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. These connections allow students to receive support, tutoring and guidance from fellow students. Blogs, newsletters and webinars are also organized to provide student success tips. The WellConnect service provides students with personal, financial and legal counseling and community connections to make adjusting to school easier. Students receive 24/7 phone support and can schedule up to four in-person or phone counseling sessions to assist them free of charge.


Willie Woolford
Assistant Director of Military Programs
Bellevue University

As non-traditional students, distance learners have non-traditional needs, especially military students. We understand that part of the reason a student chooses online or distance learning is 
because of the difficulty of attending school on campus. This means that on-campus resources are also difficult to use. Since about 70 percent of our military students attend online, Bellevue University recognizes the need to focus on distance learning support.

This is one of the reasons we opened our Military Veteran Services Center (MVSC). The center is a 3,000-square-foot facility housing resources such as our Student Veterans Association, VA representatives, career and employment services, a mentor program, vocational rehabilitation counselors, Vet Success program, Veteran Leadership Corps and much more. All services are available online via Skype, Adobe Connect and Facebook. Phone support is also available. Our counselors and volunteers are all prior military members helping our military students achieve 

Since 1966, Bellevue University has focused on military education. Located just outside the gates of Offutt Air Force Base (home of the U.S. Strategic Command), we develop, deliver and define programs designed to blend with military occupations.

Part of our commitment can be seen in the development of our Degree Accelerator and Cornerstone projects. The accelerator portion is designed to maximize the transfer credit, and the Cornerstone Courses help servicemembers transition from military to civilian culture with a self-assessment tool. These programs were designed and administered by veterans. We also participate in the Military National Honor Society program.

As one of the first accredited universities to offer online programs, Bellevue University continues to grow and be innovative for our online military students. Today, approximately 40 percent of our university is military-related, with about 70 percent of those students using our online platform. Bellevue University’s Military Veterans Services Center, military programs team, staff and professors stand at the ready to support our military students, both in the classroom and online.


Mark Cobb
Vice President of Student Success and Retention
American Sentinel University

Many universities and colleges offer student support services; however, for American Sentinel University, student support is our passion. As an accredited online university since 2006, American Sentinel strives to perfect the student experience, and we take pride in our unique approach to traditional support services.

Our distinctive personal model, My Sentinel Student Support, begins from day one of enrollment, walking a student through financial aid and course guidance into graduation and career preparation. We get it—the online environment can seem cold and lonely. Many of our students return to their studies after long absences, but the challenge is nothing to be anxious about. We understand balancing work and school can be a juggle, but our students have a dedicated student success advisor to help pick up the ball when it drops. We walk you through navigating the online classroom, communicating with faculty and peers, and tackling homework and tests. Our goal is your success.

Our new student advisors are available for one-on-one help during the transition into student life, followed by a program-specific advisor mentoring the student through their studies.

Our primary focus is the student experience, and we believe proactive encouragement and academic guidance at every turn is the best way to ensure success. Combined with engaging technology and academic resources, our online learning process exposes a student to an entire virtual community.

The MySentinel approach offers an interactive new student orientation, a 24/7 virtual resource equipped to answer FAQs, one-on-one tutoring and resources within our writing center, a career resource center that helps resume building, job searching and interview techniques, and an online library with anytime access to resources and a live professional librarian. Success Advisors are experts in designing course plans, identifying financial options, and developing personalized success plans. They are integral to the educational experience here at American Sentinel.

We provide a myriad of accredited degree and certificate programs relevant to market demands of the evolving health care and technology industries. MySentinel is a student’s encouragement, support and dimensional resource to help establish confidence and skills along their journey.


Barb Henry
Assistant Vice President Nontraditional and Transfer Student Services
Bowling Green State University

At Bowling Green State University, we understand the rigors of military life—from training to travel, duty to missions. Soldiers do not have flexible schedules, but we do. Whether a soldier is in the field or on base, they can get their degree from a recognized military-friendly school through our numerous online programs.

Bowling Green State University provides online students multiple resources such as online writing consultations and online tutoring services. We provide specialized faculty training about online, nontraditional and veteran students in the higher education setting. BGSU has a single point of contact for prospective military/veterans online students via email. It is essential for online students to have access in the online environment to as many resources as possible. Whether the student is halfway around the world or just down the street, online students utilize online services to progress to degree completion.

To meet the needs of distance learners and to strengthen the delivery of online courses, BGSU ensures that services traditional students access on campus are also readily available to students online. Student support services such as admissions, academic advising, financial aid, career counseling, library and registration have taken a learning-centered approach to accommodating online students by offering chat features, text messaging and after-hours call centers that can provide timely information.

Students at all skill levels benefit from the user-friendly applications BGSU has integrated into the way course information is presented and student support services are provided. The online learning environments at BGSU cultivate meaningful interactions between faculty and students.

Throughout their education at BGSU, students can take advantage of multiple webinars focused on career development with special emphasis on interviewing, decision-making and goal setting. The online learning experience at BGSU is simply an extension of the immersive educational experience traditional students have on campus. ♦ 























































































Last modified on Friday, 22 August 2014 12:53

Additional Info

  • Issue: 6
  • Volume: 9
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