In modern distance programs, orientation sessions (OS) are usually aimed at providing students with technical assistance in mastering new information technological tools. This research’s focus is on the less studied - psychological - aspect of creating OS for online courses. 159 graduate students participated in the research who took the author’s online course Child Development and Learning in Cultural Context. In the beginning of the semester, students went through the OS developed for them by the author, and in the last homework assignment, they were asked if that OS was useful/useless for their online studying and why. Content analysis of students' written responses showed that the most frequently encountered in their statements were concepts of “expectation” (90%), “navigation” (72%), and communication (57%). This result allows us to conclude that the content of OS should meet students' needs in a) forecasting and planning of activities, b) building of adequate cognitive maps of the virtual space in which learning takes place, c) emotional communication (which is not just messaging). These learning needs are universal. However, satisfying them in online courses, in comparison with the traditional classroom, requires special efforts from developers of OS. If students’ needs are not met, they feel frustrated, learn under stress, and a whole plume of secondary negative effects may arise preventing them from successful learning. One of the most destructive effects is distrust of the various information circulating in the online course. Based on the research results, recommendations were worked out on creating an effective OS.
Anna Toom, Touro College & University System, United States
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