I wrote this report in Spring 2017, while working as the Coordinator for Technology and Accessibility at Miami University. The purpose of this report was to
- establish who had been scheduling asynchronous appointments and why
- disprove administrative assumptions that asynchronous appointments were being misused
- argue that online appointments should continue to be placed in a separate schedule in the scheduling system, rather than being combined with face-to-face appointments
- make additional recommendations for the future of online consulting
Fall 2016 was a successful semester for online consulting, resulting in the highest number of online appointments (144) so far in one semester. In comparison to last Fall, online appointments have more than doubled (71% increase), with synchronous appointments increasing by 15%. We reached our highest number of synchronous appointments (61), and the percentage gap between synchronous and asynchronous appointments has decreased to 16%, which is the lowest so far of any semester. Student preferences for synchronous-only or asynchronous-only appointments are now almost equal at 43% and 45% respectively. We also came close to having the highest number of individual students (75) in one semester, coming just 3 students short of our numbers in Summer 2016. The majority of students we work with online (59%) are outside of Oxford in 11 other Ohio cities, 15 other states, and 3 other countries.
Appointments in both mediums are mostly with graduate students. The similarities end here, and the differences reveal how both mediums are needed to reach different populations of students. Most synchronous appointments are with full-time students, with students associated with the Oxford Campus, and for on-campus courses. On the other hand, the majority of asynchronous appointments are with part-time students, students who associate with the Online campus, and students taking online courses. The overwhelming majority of asynchronous appointments are with students outside of Oxford (81%).
Based on the data presented in this report, I have 3 recommendations:
- Schedule most online consulting hours within the 3-8pm range. Our synchronous appointments have increased as our night hours have increased. Night hours are also more likely to be used for synchronous appointments by students in online courses, part-time students, and graduate students. As such, if we want to expand our synchronous services, concentrating our online hours within this range will support this effort. In addition, offering more online hours at 8pm can better accommodate those in other time zones.
- Encourage more consultants to train for synchronous AND asynchronous, if both suit their consulting styles. Currently, 4 out of 5 online consultants are trained in both mediums, and non-traditional students have often needed asynchronous appointments as a back-up if their work schedule ends up conflicting with their appointment time. Thus, having consultants trained in both mediums benefits the students in providing flexible support and supports the writing center in reducing no-shows. Furthermore, while adding night hours for synchronous appointments benefits non-traditional students in the Eastern Time Zone, asynchronous appointments are still needed for students in other time zones or countries who will not benefit from our night or afternoon hours.
I also suggest allowing some consultants to train for asynchronous consulting before synchronous consulting, or in some cases, instead of. Several potential online consultants have been overwhelmed or intimidated by synchronous consulting and its potential for technology issues, which may explain their hesitation to be trained online. Some consultants, such as myself, may be stronger in an asynchronous environment where they have time to carefully consider their feedback and build their confidence as an online consultant. Introducing them to online consulting through asynchronous consulting first (especially after we add audiovisual commentary) may help them prepare for and warm up to synchronous consulting.
- Maintain a separate online schedule. During our pilot in Fall 2015, placing online hours in their own schedule during the last 8 weeks of the semester resulted in a 93% increase in online appointments. From that point on, the Online schedule has consistently had the highest percentage of use and the lowest number of unused appointment hours out of all of our schedules. The Online schedule supports inclusivity and accessibility for online students, allows for data tracking of increases/decreases in online appointments, better clarifies the online consulting process, enables consistent online consultant training, and supports our expansion of the online program.