P. Gabor, C. Ing

University of Calgary (CANADA)
Have you ever arrived at a restaurant and received a warm friendly greeting from the hostess who seated you at a window table in a beautifully appointed room? Then, the attentive server came over, took your order and brought you drinks. By now you were anticipating a memorable dining experience. However, when the food arrived, it was not very nicely plated and was lacking flavor. This is an example of how the front-of-house (FOH) and back-of-house (BOH) both have a vital part to play in delivering an excellent experience. FOH includes hosts and hostesses, servers, the room and table settings, and is the part of the restaurant that the diner interacts with most. Less visible, but equally important, is BOH, where the food is prepared, cooked and plated. Though the guest may not directly interact with the back-of-house, what goes on there is critical to an outstanding dining experience. If either the FOH or BOH does not hold up its end, the entire experience will suffer.

There is, metaphorically speaking, both FOH and BOH in online learning. Learners interact most with curricula, syllabi, instructors, classmates and technologies, including the learning management system. This can be considered the FOH. Less visible—in fact sometimes almost hidden—are services and resources that students interact with less frequently. These include admissions, registration, advising, accessibility services, library and other resources, as well as various specialized supports, such as health, counseling and learning success resources. These BOH services are equally important to creating an outstanding experience and great learning outcomes and, for some students, will be the difference between completing and abandoning the program or course.

Because the prevalence of online learning is increasing, it is important to identify factors that are instrumental in ensuring learners’ experiences and outcomes are comparable to that achieved in traditional on-campus situations. In this presentation, we will build on our previous work and recent literature to identify and elaborate on things that are keys to creating an excellent online experience for learners. Although we will discuss both FOH and BOH factors, we will pay special attention to BOH features of online learning, as these are less visible and harder and more expensive to provide to students who are away from main campus.