Why You Need a “Course Concierge”

Authors

“What is a course concierge?” you might ask. Another good question might be, “What could be so hard about online education that you would need one?”

Well … a lot of things, from design to delivery to evaluation. Let’s just focus on delivery for now. You have designed and developed your course site and you are ready to go. Or are you? Here are some things that can — and often do — go wrong.

  1. Students can’t get into the course site. Usually this is “user error” but occasionally there are technical or enrollment glitches. It never ceases to amaze me how many things can go wrong from people still using a computer they bought in 1993 to someone who can’t remember which email address they used the first time they registered with the institution. Some people have multiple accounts; some have a very common name; some got married or divorced or for some other reason changed their name. Needless to say, the platform can’t distinguish among all these variables, and it is darn difficult for even the cleverest of humans to sort out and then reassemble all the puzzle parts. By far, the most common reason participants can’t find their way into the course site is that they don’t read their email — and this goes for faculty as well as students. Tsk tsk …
  2. Faculty are VERY busy. Let’s face it — faculty are stretched to beyond their limits and in every which direction. Setting aside time for training in the essentials of teaching online and an orientation to the specific course site is difficult to schedule. Then all of a sudden the time comes when the course site opens and the festivities begin. Uh oh …
  3. The door is open but no one shows up. You might not know how important it is to require some “pre-course” activity. It is not just a nice thing to have students post an introduction or just a formality to have students complete a learner contract. Whether students are able to accomplish these two relatively simple tasks demonstrates who is present and who is yet to show up. The simple acts of uploading a photo and adding an introduction as a new discussion topic prove that the user — student or faculty — have explored the site at least enough to find the introductions forum. If they have completed the learner contract, you know they are able to answer a questionnaire. What if you open the course site, send a welcome message with clear directions — even screen shots! — and no one shows up? This happened in a recent course — the site was open for over a week before the first student posted an introduction. This was an omen of things to come. It wasn’t a very successful online experience for anyone involved.
  4. People just can’t figure things out or find things. I think looking at a course site for the first time must be sort of like me looking at an MRI or a bunch of cells under a microscope. If I don’t know what I’m looking for, I sure won’t see it. This is a challenge! Unless I am sitting right next to someone or I can take over their screen remotely, it is often nearly impossible to help someone see the tool or the link or the bread crumbs that will lead the person back to where they were. This can also be incredibly frustrating for both the shepherd and the little lost lamb.
  5. Online communication as a second language. There are a number of typical questions from people new to online learning, especially courses where ongoing discussion is required. I tell people that learning to communicate online can sometimes feel like learning a new language. “How do I know where to reply?” is a common question. “How much should I write?” “When should I chime in?” “Should I respond to all posts?”
  6. Submitting, reading, downloading, uploading, grading …
  7. Dead links, mid-course corrections, changes in the roster … Ay yi yi.

I think I make my point here — these are among the many reasons why you need a “course concierge”. The concierge has one main purpose — to make the online learning experience positive and successful for everyone — students, faculty, guests, and support staff. The concierge is very busy during the first week, and then, if all goes well, the concierge can peek into the course a couple of times per day for the duration of the course.

Concierge is defined as a caretaker or maintenance person. Synonyms include Cerberus, baby sitter, bodyguard, claviger, curator, escort, guardian, housesitter, keeper, manager, overseer, protector, sitter, steward, super, superintendent, supervisor, swamper, warden, watchdog, and watchperson. You might need to look some of these up, as I did. Think about it, though — next time you are planning and conducting an online course, might it be helpful to have a concierge onboard?

Happy Travels!

Chris Garrett

Director of Online Education

UCSF CTSI

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