Elisabeth Ramos-Torrescano

Provide Easy Access to Academic Support with Widgets

I dropped my oldest son off at college in August. Man, that was a tough goodbye. So many unknowns and questions, like, will he survive? Of course he will. However, one area that I probably overcompensated for in high school was reminding him (fairly often) to talk to his teachers, go to the writing and math centers—basically utilize all the academic resources possible. Did he? Not really, unless he was desperately trying to climb out of a hole.

So, would this continue in college? It couldn’t. If it did—well, he might end up back at home.

After two weeks, I received a couple of texts, but no call. A FaceTime call seemed appropriate. I was so excited to see him, but a bit shocked at his location for the call. Guess where he was? In the library—in the library! Definitely one of my happiest moments so far.

He said the library had become his home base and second to that are the resource centers and his instructors’ offices. He said it was much easier to access these resources than during high school. The barriers of trying to go during a free period, after school or before school had disappeared. He could quickly make appointments with teachers online, chat with a librarian, and walk in to the writing or math centers. All these supports, so easily accessible, seemed to ground him because he knew how and where he could get help.

What about online students? How do we design access to academic supports so that they are convenient and readily available? We confronted this challenge when designing the Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) online program in DePaul’s School of Nursing.

After speaking with the director to identify what students would need readily accessible to be successful, we got to work on designing “widgets” that would live on every DNP course homepage. We worked with the librarian to curate a Library Resources widget that included a nursing research guide specifically for DNP students, a link to an “ask a librarian” chat tool, and tutorials on how to use databases and citation formatting.

Since students are required to create an e-portfolio of their exemplary work during the program, we worked with the e-portfolio administrator to create a widget with links to tutorials, the suggested template, and best practices for developing an e-portfolio.

In addition, we created a DNP Project widget. Faculty often commented that students did not have a good concept of the major milestones for the DNP Project—which affected the quality of the projects—so we created a widget with links to a “DNP Project Roadmap” and a link to the DNP program guidelines.

Widgets listing resources for DNP Project, Digication, and Library

Because the information in these widgets is applicable across the entire program, we place them on the homepages of all program courses. This makes the information readily available and provides consistency from course to course. And because the widgets are housed at the shared file level, when we make a change to one it flows down into all existing widgets.

Student feedback is positive and instructors have noticed less student confusion about where to access academic resources. In addition, the instructors have commented on the improved quality of the e-portfolios and the final DNP projects.

Student feedback from anonymous surveys has also confirmed that the readily accessible resources provided in the widgets give the DNP students the same sense of grounding that my son experienced. Knowing how and where to access key information conveniently and consistently can relieve anxiety and make the student feel supported—which has contributed to a positive learning experience for the DePaul DNP students.

Elisabeth Ramos-Torrescano

About Elisabeth Ramos-Torrescano

Lisa wears two hats at DePaul. She is the Assistant Director of Information Technology and Program Development for the School of Nursing, and a Senior Instructional Designer for Department of Health Sciences and the Master’s of Public Health. She has fifteen years of experience working in educational, non-profit, internet start-ups, and publishing organizations in positions that leverage her background in user experience, instructional design, and leadership. Lisa earned her B.A in American Studies from Northwestern University, and a M.B.A with a concentration in Health Sector Management from DePaul University’s Kellstadt Graduate School of Business. Lisa is in the throes of raising 3 teenage boys, but she makes time to ride her bike, try out new recipes weekly, garden, travel, and attend cultural events around the city.

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