The semester’s first workshop, Online Learning Success, helped students cope and adjust to online learning. Future workshops include Time Management, Motivation (Engaged Learning), and We All Need Self Care. (Photo courtesy of Unsplash).

Student Success Workshops find their own success online

The Student Success Workshops series has found its own success virtually as students navigate a fully online semester for the first time. 

The workshops, hosted by Mesa Community College’s (MCC) Foundations for Student Success (FSS), gained participants and a new direction after moving online to accommodate the COVID-19 pandemic. The faculty in charge said for students adjusting to their new reality, these workshops can make the difference in their, well, success. 

“We’ve had to be really innovative, as had instructors,” said FSS learning facilitator Pandi Bromley. “So, while at first we weren’t really quite sure how well received they would be, we’ve been overwhelmed by reponses.”

In a workshop for the Life Sciences Department, Bromley counted 86 attendees. At the Managing Stress/Anxiety workshop on Sept. 14, 50 students attended, and on the Sept. 17, 40 or so attended. 

But before the pandemic, FSS director Melissa Carpenter said traditional workshops saw five to 15 students, most referred by faculty. 

“I attribute that to a desire to connect, because there’s fewer opportunities,” Carpenter said. “You’re not just going to go on campus and bump into your friends, or…meet other students.” 

Bromley agreed: “I was pleased… We wanted to be certain they were getting the message that FSS is still here to support you.”

The virtual move not only affected who attends, but what they learn. Carpenter explained pre-selected workshop topics have been adjusted for online learning and include new information on self care and reflection. Students now need to be able to navigate Canvas on a daily basis. Time management without in-person reminders, turning in assignments online, and learning to connect with professors and classmates virtually are all on the docket. 

Bromley added: “Another reason that’s super valuable is by them attending workshops and seeing… other students, they feel less alone. They need to see that they’re not isolated…. We want to bring them together. We want to connect with them, and we want to share ideas for how to be successful in this format.”

Though online workshops have their downsides–body language is hard to read or nonexistent, and activities are no longer hands-on–the positive response encouraged FSS to decide to permanently move one of the two sessions per workshop topic online after campus reopens. 

Foundations for Student Success began in 2012 as part of a Title III federal grant. When the grant ended, MCC saw the need to teach students success strategies for college still existed. Carpenter explained FSS aims to help underprepared and first-generation students–51% of the student body–without a model for college success. FSS also directs students in the right direction with the right tools, like counseling and financial aid. 

“First year of college is sometimes the hardest, but we’re here to give you some strategies to move forward and feel hope that you’re gonna make it through each semester.”

And for students thrust into a semester fully online, workshops like these provide important connections.

“I don’t know if you saw in the chat,” Bromley said, “but there were a lot of students saying ‘Wow, I’m gonna take this with me. This will be valuable…’ Even if they come away with one or two takeaways, it’s worth it.” 

After Thursday’s Managing Stress/Anxiety workshop, six students emailed Bromley with questions, prompting one-on-one sessions where they can share screens and navigate specific issues.

Bromley believed students are going to discover strengths and independence through online learning. 

“While it is challenging, I think they’re developing skills and developing muscles they never knew they had, and I think they’re going to surprise themslves,” she said.”

She encouraged students to be organized, manage time, and communicate. Forming study groups and communicating with instructors will eliminate the feeling of isolation and falling under the radar.

“That’s probably the number one thing students need to know: to connect with resources, connect with their instructor, connect with classmates. It’s all about connection.”

Workshops are held twice a week. The next Student Success workshop is Time Management on Sept. 21 at noon. 

Students can find the Webex link, a list of workshops and their dates as well as other offered programs here:

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