Forum Brings Students in Online Degree Programs Together, Offers Resources

August 18, 2022  |  by Heidi Wells, Global Campus

Students studying in online degree programs at the University of Arkansas don’t have to walk to the Student Union in the blazing heat, on icy sidewalks or during sudden downpours. They have an online version specifically tailored to support them.

The Global Campus at the U of A manages the new Online Student Union using a platform created by education technology company WISR. The Global Campus’ Office of Recruitment and Student Outreach invited students enrolled in summer courses to join communities within the forums to find resources, ask questions and build relationships with other students studying online.

The Global Campus supports the academic colleges that offer more than 75 online degree, certificate, microcertificate and licensure programs. More than 440 U of A students graduated from online degree programs in May.

One of the communities on the social media-like platform brings students in a chemistry prep course together. Global Campus staff developed the innovative prep course to try to lower the incidence of poor grades and withdrawals from the basic chemistry course required of several majors at the U of A. The staff members received the Global Campus Lightbulb Award for their work.

“When I saw the email about the Online Student Union, I thought, let’s give it a try. I wanted to see the format of it and communicate with other people. Normally, if I wouldn’t have gotten the email, I would have just been doing schoolwork without help.”

Eliana Cabrera, Online student enrolled in chemistry prep course

Tips and Other information

One post on the Online Student Union gave four tips for learning from home, including finding a quiet space dedicated to class and study times. The coaches asked students to post a picture of their study space to win a U of A pen. Students responded with images of neatly arranged desks, spare rooms with office furniture and pets that keep them company while they work.

But the Online Student Union features much more than help with the chemistry prep course, explained Kersten Diehl, one of three coaches Global Campus employs exclusively to assist U of A online students. It’s divided into communities based on the academic college in which a student is enrolled along with some communities for specific degree programs and coaching help.

“It’s a safe place for students to ask questions,” Diehl said.


Students Can Reach Out

Eliana Cabrera of Lowell, Arkansas, is majoring in human resource and workforce development, a bachelor’s degree program offered by the College of Education and Health Professions. She was enrolled in the chemistry prep course.

“When I saw the email about the Online Student Union, I thought, let’s give it a try,” said Cabrera, who regularly uses TikTok, Instagram and Pinterest, the latter for jewelry-making ideas. “I wanted to see the format of it and communicate with other people. Normally, if I wouldn’t have gotten the email, I would have just been doing schoolwork without help.”

In addition to getting referrals for assistance such as Tutor Me, an online 24/7 tutoring service the university contracts with to offer tutoring for online students, Cabrera likes to answer questions posed by the online student coaches, responses for which she has collected U of A swag, including stickers, a squeezable stress hog, headphones and a highlighter.

The coaches also asked students in the chemistry prep course what they liked about it and how it could be improved, said Selin Nelson, another coach for online students.

Cabrera said she expects to keep going to the Online Student Union during the fall semester. She can access it on her phone when checking her email.

“Science isn’t one of my best materials to learn so I think I will definitely use the Online Student Union to ask if there are study groups I could join,” she said.

Nelson said students she coaches who are enrolled in the LPN to BSN program have said they value the Online Student Union because of the connections they make with other students. They often want to talk to each other about topics such as clinical placements, she said.


Planning to Expand

The Global Campus is working on adding more communities based on students’ interests such as outdoor recreation, wellness or parenting, which would bring together students from different degree programs.

“Students can join those based on their preferences,” Diehl said.

The Online Student Union also allows the coaches to correct any misinformation that may be circulating among students, Nelson said, especially with regulations that may change quickly, such as other states’ requirements for nursing licensure.

Coaching appointments are all online and can be made after regular business hours. There is some overlap between questions asked on the Online Student Union and topics for individual online coaching sessions, Diehl said, but often students want help tailoring information about topics such as study skills, goal-setting and organization to their personal circumstances.

Other services offered by the Office of Recruitment and Student Outreach are described on the Global Campus website.

Photo of Heidi Wells

Heidi Wells

Content Strategist

Heidi Wells is the content strategist for the Global Campus at the University of Arkansas and editor of The Online Learner. Her writing spans more than 30 years as a communicator at the U of A and a reporter and editor at Arkansas newspapers. Wells earned two degrees from the U of A: a master's in 2013 and a bachelor's in 1988.

Wells can be reached at or 479-575-7239.

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University of Arkansas ONLINE programs are designed by academic departments on the Fayetteville campus to offer you another path to earning a degree from a top-tier public research university. Online programs give you the flexibility to balance family, work and school responsibilities. You do not have to put your life on hold while working toward a better one.

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