Readiness for Online Instruction
Martinez, Ed. D.
Vice President of Student Services
Coastal Bend College
Director of Distance Education
San Antonio College
Vickie Giesel, Ed. D.
Preparatory and Support Services
Tyler Jr. College
According to the
findings of the Illinois Virtual Campus, “most institutions require
basic technical skills as a prerequisite for enrollment in online
courses but students are generally not required to demonstrate
performance of these skills”
(Washburn 2003) . A review of
community college and university websites not only seems to
substantiate the Illinois findings but suggests institutional
efforts to help potential students assess basic computer, work
processing, and Internet use skills. While anecdotal evidence
suggests a correlation between student readiness for online
instruction and student success, research based instruments for
determining student readiness are lacking. The lack of valid
instruments for determining student readiness does not mean
institutions have not developed programs and practices to help
students understand the requirements of online education, to
identify their own skills in relation to those requirements, and to
promote student success in online instruction. The need at this
point in the development and expansion of online instruction is for
identification of best practices in determining student readiness
and in facilitating student success in an online environment.
The authors’ goal
for this article is to provide a review of best practices to assist
institutions in their efforts to determine student readiness for
online instruction. Student readiness in this article refers to
multiple support services that prepare students for successful
online instruction. Any endeavor whose ultimate goal is to promote
student success in an online environment must examine institutional
efforts to identify prerequisite skills, institutional strategies to
equip potential students for online instruction, resources required,
and a deep look at how student readiness is determined. Student
readiness must be viewed in a continuum extending from the point of
initial interest and extending through the skill development phase
as students work through the instruction offered by the institution
for preparing students embarking on an online education journey, and
at the end, must encompass the final phase as students access the
course(s) and begin their work. This article is limited to
examining institutional efforts but if learning involves both
learners and guides, at some point the learner’s motivation, skill,
and drive must also be examined.
examines a variety of resources and presents a brief overview of
current best practices that may be used in determining student
readiness and equipping students for success in online instruction.
Readiness Assessment Tools and Models
Howell, Williams, and Lindsay (2003) several factors are emerging
that should be mentioned at this point: (1) the Internet is becoming
dominant among distance-education media; (2) the increasing demand
on higher education infrastructure means more distance education
programs are needed; and (3) student demand for flexibility in
program structure to accommodate their responsibilities is being
supported and answered. These trends suggest several implications
among which are a greater need for helping students determine their
readiness for learning in an online environment and an increase
demand for viable instruments that help students examine their
readiness for learning in such an environment.
The models included in
this document indicate a strong preference for an initial
interactive assessment to help students determine their readiness
for learning in an online environment. The assessments generally
tend to focus on two areas: (1) technical skill, and (2) on study
skills and motivation. Some assessments also address learning
The University of Georgia. The University of
Georgia is one of the institutions that is providing the help that students
need. Dr. Lynn Schrum’s
Student Online Readiness Tool (SORT) developed for the
Georgia (2001), consists of six research based interactive assessments that are
designed to help learners assess their readiness for online
learning. The goal is to help learners make an informed decision
based on the information and immediate feedback provided by the six
modules. Each module consists of a brief description, an
interactive questionnaire, immediate feedback, and strategies and
suggestions for each module. Indications are the model places
responsibility on the learner to work through each of the modules
and to make subsequent decisions based on the information garnered
from the modules and additional links. SORT consists of the
computer access and skills levels are deemed important factors on
learners’ attitudes toward online education, the Technology
Experience instrument consisting of nine items helps the learner assess
the level of computer, email and Internet skills.
Access to Tools
convenient and consistent access to hardware and software tools is
vital for success in online learning, the Access to Tools twelve item
questionnaire is designed to help the learner determine access to
the most common tools for online courses. Students are advised to
check the course under consideration to determine whether additional
tools are needed.
study habits and skills are critical to learning, the nine question
Study Habits quiz helps students determine strengths and weaknesses
in this area.
In order to
help students examine the demands of their schedule and the
requirements of the course, the six question inventory helps students
determine the compatibility of their lifestyle and online learning.
Goals and Purposes
This six item
questionnaire helps students assess their motivation for learning.
The eleven item
questionnaire helps students identify their preferred style for
processing and remembering information. It helps them link their
understanding of information processing to the course selection
decision and to determine strategies for a more successful learning
A resource link
provides specific strategies and additional links to needs
identified in each of the modules.
The strengths of
the SORT model include an interactive format, immediate feedback, a
focus that extends beyond the obvious technical requirements to
include a look at the individual’s responsibility for identifying
the motivation for taking online courses, and a process for
suggesting specific strategies for each module.
The Wisconsin Virtual School. Although the
Wisconsin Virtual School provides services to secondary school
students, their assessment model is worthy of mention. The model
emphasizes personal skills and aptitudes for taking online courses.
They have identified six attributes that contribute to student
success. WVS requirements place responsibility on the student in
line with trends in distance education. According to Howell (2003)
a learner-centered, non-linear, and self-directed model in distance
education is emerging. It is a model which emphasizes students’
responsibility for their own learning. Indications are the
WVS model is one which follows the emerging trend. It links the
following six attributes to student success:
defined as the ability to direct the learning environment, fulfill
course requirements, and achieve individual academic success.
assessment helps students gauge their understanding of the online
environment, how it facilitates learning at an individual pace, and
how this pace relieves the stress of feeling pressured thus
promoting an enjoyable learning experience.
advanced computer skills are not necessary, basic knowledge of
electronic email, the Internet, and keyboarding skills are needed.
Time Management Skills
to organize and plan the best time to learn is needed.
Effective Written Communication
communication with peers and instructors is accomplished via the use
of electronic formats, the ability to communicate ideas and
assignments is important to student success.
desire to learn and attain knowledge and skills via online courses
requires a strong commitment to participate in order to achieve.
School students take
a Browser test to ensure that their computers have all the necessary
components and plug-ins required for the course(s). The Student
Orientation Tutorial available to all new students introduces
students to the platform and tools that will be used in the course(s).
A ten item interactive assessment is available to help students
determine if online instruction is right for them. This online
interactive assessment provides an individual score, a brief
advisory, and a note about the options offered by online
The strengths of
the WVS model include the emphasis on the personal student
attributes that contribute to success, the interactive assessment,
immediate feedback, and the Browser test with its well organized
site and instructions for downloading required software.
Austin Community College. The
Austin Community College model is simple, clean, and
interactive. The Distance Learning site is linked to a variety
of interactive assessments designed to assist
the student making a decision regarding the appropriateness of
distance learning classes. The initial advisory informs students
of both the flexibility offered by distance learning and of the
motivation and time management skills required.
The model includes
three interactive modules:
Learning Style Self-Assessment
This module is
intended to help the student understand his/her learning style
preference and to determine whether distance learning is
Technical Skills Checklist
This is an
interactive checklist designed to help the student determine the
level of technical skills and includes online tutorials in the
Passport to Success
This is an online interactive workshop that enables the student to
explore the basics of distance learning. The workshop includes
study tips and strategies and access to support resources.
The model is
linked sequentially so the registration information page is
accessible from the assessments page. The registration information
page provides the necessary links to complete the process. The
model provides support materials but holds the student responsible.
The strengths of
the model include an excellent interactive workshop and extensive
The San Antonio College Model. One of the
community colleges that offers extensive and in depth help to
potential students and faculty is San Antonio College (SAC). Their
Readiness Test is a quick, interactive, nine item self-evaluation
that helps students determine the appropriateness of online and
video courses. It provides an immediate brief advising report.
Students who have taken the Readiness Test are advised to proceed to
Module 3: Online Course Readiness Module which prepares them to take
online courses. The three modules, which require one to three hours
each, prepare students for online learning, are free to SAC
students, and may be completed in any order. The
SAC Internet Skills Center provides three instructional modules
Module I: Basic Computer Skills
which addresses the following components
Take an overview of
Create and save Word
Edit a Word document
Format a document
Set and adjust
Insert headers and
Set document margins
Use the Help menu
Module II: Web-based Library Skills
consists of the following:
Take a virtual tour
of the library
Use the online
Find information on
library research skills.
Module III: Online Course Readiness
Module which is designed
to designed to teach students how to take an Online course
successfully, prepares completers of the module to do the
SAC Distance Education web site
Internet for SAC courses
in web courses
Online course files
The strength of the
San Antonio College
model includes an interactive assessment to determine Readiness for
Online Education, timely and extensive modules designed to assist
the learner develop the requisite skills for success in an online
environment, and the Internet Skills Center responsible for
providing assistance to students. The model also provides
opportunities for faculty to develop the skills required for
successful experiences in an online environment along with
appropriate motivation. The faculty skill development portion is
addressed in the section on
Learning Guides/ Facilitators for
Learning/ Instructors/ Faculty.
Cascadia Community College.
Cascadia Community College model includes a short, interactive, twelve
item assessment to help students determine whether the distance
learning environment is appropriate for them. A brief advisory
based upon the assessment score is provided upon submission.
One aspect that distinguishes this model is that the assessment is
offered through Washington Online, the state's virtual campus. The
Washington Online Virtual Campus
collaboration among Washington State colleges to provide greater
The Washington Online Virtual Campus offers prospective students an
opportunity to explore seven excellent informational modules which
provide an introduction to the distance learning environment. The
initial topic includes the readiness assessment and
the Blackboard Week Zero Tutorial,
a self-paced online
course intended to introduce students to the platform to be used.
It is called Week Zero because it is deemed to be most effective if
completed prior to the start of classes. The tutorial is set up in a
Blackboard classroom similar to the one used in the college classes.
Other topics include online learning skills, advising on program
selection, financial aid information, information on required
hardware and software, and an excellent
Learn-To-Learn Course module. The Learn-To-Learn
course offers an introduction to online learning for students who
are considering taking an online class for the first time. The
course, produced by Washington Online and The Boeing Company, helps
the students learn:
Online course navigation
How to use e-mail
How to participate in chat rooms
Cascadia Online provides a good introductory overview for first-time online students. The page contains a short guide designed to
help students prepare for the online class environment. The
overview includes six steps:
Is Online Learning for Me?
Information on the
Technology and Skills Requirements
for a successful
effective schedule planning to allow regular attendance and
homework time for the online course.
An opportunity to
Learn to Learn tutorial.
navigating in Blackboard by doing the
Week Zero Tutorial.
An opportunity to
buy textbooks and activate your library card. Information on
library services available online through the
library site and live online research help availability
www.lib.washington.edu/services/qnalive is presented.
The Cascadia Model is comprehensive. The assessments, tutorials,
and information pages are very helpful. One of the most impressive
dimensions of the model is the linkage with the Washington Online
Virtual Campus. It is an excellent model of collaboration.
Coastal Bend College. Coastal Bend College (CBC)
is one of the smaller Texas community colleges developing and
delivering courses via the Internet. Since consumers are not
interested in the circumstances of the institution but are
interested in the availability of online instruction, in the
quality, and in the support services for online
instruction that are offered by an institution, even smaller
institutions are required to provide the requisite services to
support online instruction. These expectations have profound
implications for smaller institutions which must rely on limited
institutional resources. While the CBC model does not compare with
the sophistication of models developed at larger districts, it does
effectively demonstrate what is possible with limited resources.
institutions rely on “personal touch” a dimension evident in a “high
tech- high touch” environment. CBC’s use of Internet specific
advisors is one example of a high touch approach. Although basic
information regarding the availability of Internet courses and
information on the enrollment process is posted on the institution’s
website, an interactive assessment is not used. Advisors work with
individual students to help them determine their readiness for
learning in an online environment. The advising process includes a
review of attributes of successful online learners and of student’s
technical skill level.
The Coastal Bend
College Model follows this process:
Students interested in taking an online course submit an
Application To Take Internet Courses which requires applicants
to provide some indications of their technical skills.
Students meet with an Internet specific advisor to determine their
readiness and to enroll as determined by the student and advisor
based on the student’s technical skills, life schedules, and
3. Students attend an
Orientation for Internet Students which addresses the following
CampusConnect (online student information access)
Student Email Program
Internet Course Test Policy
to Navigate the Web Links
Smarthinking (online tutoring assistance)
Introduction to CBC Web-based resources and HelpDesk
Retention Specialist directs initial contacts with online students
via the HelpDesk and works with faculty to monitor class
HelpDesk assumes vital functions attempting to accomplish these via
its webpage which provides links to
Online Tutorials and
FAQs. Student support services available through the HelpDesk
Student Support which includes information on orientation dates,
downloads, web page creation, and a link to the
Virtual College of Texas website.
Faculty Support which includes: basic faculty online tutorials,
information on uploading files to ColdFusion site, basic navigation
information, information on multi media software, and WebCt.
The strength of
the CBC model includes a “high touch” approach, numerous face to
face orientation sessions, distribution of orientation CDs,
Retention Specialist, and the helpdesk.
Staffing a Program to
Focus on Learners
Since the most
important person in distance education is the learner, the focus of
the staffing structure must center on the needs of the learner.
While the institution through its support services enhances the
learning environment, the individual learner, and whatever internal
and external motivational factors are in operation, must assume a
priority role in the learning process. Although the role of
the individual learner may be obvious, the greater realm of reality
also dictates a proactive institutional posture in providing timely,
relevant, and acceptable interventions to assist the learner in the
process of self-discovery and determining readiness for learning in
an online environment.
Institutions offering courses via the Internet must provide support
services to help online students get started
with a major emphasis on technical support” (CHEA 2002).
Although some offer more sophisticated services, most institutions
that have developed a distance learning program provide some type of
basic services. All educational endeavors are systems made up
of various interconnected components according to Davis (2004).
In distance education the entire system of course development and
delivery and how these systems are linked to other services and
their components must be understood in order to ensure effectiveness
and quality (Davis, 2004).
While the student may be the primary beneficiary in distance
learning, many people contribute to that success. Faculty,
technicians, test center personnel, librarians, and administrators
work to ensure the delivery of viable online courses.
reviewing the staffing that is required to assess student readiness,
the whole range of preparation, delivery, support, and evaluation of
these processes must be examined. Although the review begins with
the learner as central, curriculum/course designers who develop the
modules to prepare learners for success in online instruction,
internet specific advisors who assist learners in making course
selections and throughout their development, the helpdesk staff who
support learners throughout the process, the IT staff who work to
maintain a viable technological infrastructure, the student services
staff from admissions, financial aid, counseling, and test center
who provide support, and of course the faculty who encourage, guide,
and challenge learners must also be acknowledged.
Technicians. The most obvious of services are those of a
technical nature. The people with technical skills either develop
the information presented on the technical requirements site or
provide the information for others to develop the site. In any
case, the technicians cannot be ignored. Best practices dictate
that institutions provide technicians to assist with these issues.
provides a basic listing of technical
requirements which clearly reminds student’s of their responsibility
to ensure that they have access to a computer that meets the minimum
hardware and software requirements. Other institutions provide at a
minimum a list of hardware and software requirements that is easily
accessible to all potential students.
Help Desk staff provide ongoing support in the
online environment. The following examples are selected form
inclusion to demonstrate different degrees of service. All are
helpful and readily available and most initial Help Desk pages list
One of the sites providing support services in
the form of information is the Community College of Baltimore
County provides an online Help Desk. Basic login information, AOL
issues, employer firewall problems, and WebCT help are available
through the links from the Online Help Desk.
College of DuPage Help Desk is extensive
including FAQs, contact information for counselor charged with
providing online student support, links to technical help for the
Anlon system, and email support. This page provides
comprehensive information on available services. Each
information link includes a FAQs link opens a new small window
keeping the original window available.
The Cascadia Online site demonstrates a team comprehensive
approach listing instructor, Help Desk, Advisor, and Distance
Learning Administrator, members whose responsibility is to help
online students succeed. An impressive addition is
WAOL Help which links to 24/7 technical and instructional
support, live phone support, and 24/7 Real-time eChat.
Some institutions offer online tutorials from
links off the Help Desk. The Coastal Bend College Help Desk webpage
is an example of a site that provides links to online tutorials.
Thus, While the student may
be the primary beneficiary in distance learning, many people
contribute to that success. Technicians who develop and staff the
Help Desk, faculty, test center personnel, librarians, and
administrators are some of the people who work to ensure the
delivery of viable online courses.
Advising. Online interactive
assessments generally produce a short advisory which includes
directions for accessing the required and available skill
development modules. Although the number of preparatory modules
varies, these modules generally help the student develop basic
technical skills, identify their preferred learning style, examine
their commitment to online learning, and determine the constraints
on their time. There is little information readily available on how
the “HOLD” process is handled although some institutions make use of
the degree audits for online registration for ensuring completion of
pre-requisite courses. Holds are often removed as part of the
advising process. Institutions do not make distinctions between
online and onsite students in terms of the admissions, testing, and
registration process or requirements.
San Antonio College
includes a link off the distance learning page to
Admission and Registration which lists the following eight step
Step 1- completion and submission of online application
Step 2- submission of transcripts and the removal of any “holds”
Step 3- information on placement requirements and test sites
Step 4- information on contacting an academic counselor as needed
Step 5- information for enrollment in student development class
Step 6- early registration process information
Step 7- information for accessing financial aid is provided
Step 8- provides information regarding payment of tuition and fees
A link that could
prove very helpful is found on Step 4 that opens the
Online Counseling Services for Distance Learning.
The Austin Community
College Distance Learning
Step 1- Becoming An ACC Student, plainly states: “Students
enrolling in Distance Learning courses at Austin Community College
follow the same admissions and registration procedures as students
enrolling in on-campus courses.” The enrollment process includes:
Registration Checklist available to new and
returning students to help them track their status in regard to the
ACC New Student
Admission Application- this online application is available to new
students who seek admission to the college
must be completed by all new students to determine residency
required for all new students prior to registration
Information for New Students
ACC New Student
Orientation which may be completed online or at any of the ACC
Assisting in the Enrollment Process- Identifies all offices
Orientation. Requirements run the
gamut from specific course orientations to general orientation for
online classes. In some cases the orientations are delivered via
the web. In other cases students are required to attend a face to
TVI Community College. TVI Community College
provides an interactive
orientation for online students. The orientation is delivered
via a streaming audio/ video presentation and a text version that
allows student manipulation. It consists of five modules as
follows: Start Here, What To Expect, Locations, Programs of Study,
and Success. The success module includes student success video
stories, identifies the types of academic support available,
introduces the Job Connection Center, and the career resource
center. Additional links open a new window with an interactive
admissions form or to financial aid services. It is deemed to be
one of the best orientations available completely online.
The strengths of the
TVI orientation include the streaming video, an interactive format,
and the links to additional, relevant, and needed services which in
turn offer similar a type of convenience and timely service.
Terra Community College. Although the
Terra Community College Distance Learning Orientation is not
wholly interactive, it is a comprehensive online orientation
comprised of four modules. An extensive list of
online tutorials is available through each of the modules.
Module 1- Basic Skills Technology Module
Students review terms such as mouse, drag, open, select, file,
choose, double-click, download, upload, send, etc, identify the
operating system, amount of memory, size of hard drive, and
processor in the computer used for the course(s), as well as
specific types of software on the computer, and review commands such
as save, copy, and find files and folders on floppy and hard drives.
Module 2- Basic Skills for Using the Web
Students who complete the course are able to understand terms
related to using the Web, access a specific URL, bookmark a web
site, conduct a basic search using a search engine, refine a search,
and research a specific topic.
Module 3- Basic Communication Skills
Student who complete the module are able to review
email terms, recognize the components of an email message form,
compose and send an email message, open, reply to, and forward a
message; send CC of message; attach and send an attachment; open
and/or save an attachment; and, email address troubleshooting
Module 4- Online Communication Skills
Students who complete the course are able to log on to a course
WebBoard, participate in a conference; reply to WebBoard conference; post
comments; open documents posted on WebBoard conference, attach
documents; participate in chat room
According to Hughes
(2004) there are three common formats that are
employed to provide both technological and academic support for
online learners: an information center which provides institutional
and program information; computing helpdesks to assit with
troubleshooting technological issues; and call centers are
frequently that support a particular program area. All three are
needed to support the whole learning process. In fact, institutions
generally provide direction on the technical requirements including
hardware and software. Some provide troubleshooting information for
AOL subscribers since this provider does not support some of the
features of the management software.
Technical Requirements. The
Community College of Baltimore County
includes a comprehensive
section on technical requirements. This page linked of their Online
Classes site includes helpful information on the following:
1. Internet Access
2. Minimal Computer
Hardware requirements for IBM/
Intell and Apple Macintosh machines. Students are advised to
check course requirements for additional course specific software.
4. Instructions on
how to check to see whether the browser is WebCT compliant
5. A Note to AOL
Users includes a suggestion to use a stand alone browser and
instruction on how to use the stand - alone browser instead of
AOL's built - in browser:
6. Browser configuration information for WebCt users is included for configuring Netscape Navigator and
Washington Online, a virtual campus of
Cascadia Community College includes a very good page listing the
technology requirements. The site includes the following eight
Macintosh Minimum configuration
Listing of plug-ins that may be required:
6. Information on Virus Protection including a link to a computer
Virus Information Page
7. Advisory on computer and Internet access requirements
Skill Requirements with appropriate links to other helpful sites.
Course Management Software.
of Baltimore County
specific WebCt tools.
St Charles Community College
provides an excellent
tutorial on WebCt navigation.
The SCCC tutorial uses screens captured to trace login and access
into the site. Once the first page is reviewed, WebCT tools are
subsequently used to navigate through the remainder of the tutorial.
The Week Zero Tutorial
offered by Washington Online provides an excellent introduction to
Support Services. The Community College
of Baltimore County information on support services is informative,
comprehensive, and easily accessible. It is linked from the
Distance Learning Homepage. All support services including
online tutoring services are linked off this page.
this document addresses student readiness for learning in an online
environment, it has merely skimmed the surface. It does not pretend
to be an exhaustive review. It merely affords a glimpse into the
institutional practices for assessing student readiness at a
particular point in time. The dynamic nature of the online
environment precludes any final word on the subject. The only
definite word at this point is that institutions must continue to
assess student readiness for learning in the online environment in
order to develop appropriate and timely strategies to promote