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B. Roberts, W. Owen

Naval Postgraduate School (UNITED STATES)
This presentation will report on lessons learned while implementing a redesigned orientation to enhance student engagement and learning in a distance education graduate Systems Engineering program, and how that knowledge was subsequently employed in resident instruction. The original orientation, primarily delivered by web-conferencing was traditionally focused on program description, academic requirements, and introduction of key stakeholders and their roles in support of distance education. In a redesign, a second phase of the orientation was developed to teach fundamental skills associated with success in higher education, providing students with information on learning styles, problem solving, and critical thinking. We named that phase of the orientation the Graduate Success Seminar (GSS). A nice spinoff of our redesign efforts provided us with opportunities for discovery. In the process of trying to increase engagement for our students, we as program managers, also became more engaged and discovered additional factors that appear to govern the success of our students. Additionally, we realized that on-boarding exercises should not be confined to the onset of an academic program, but be reinforced throughout the program’s lifecycle. Given greater access to students in our resident graduate Systems Engineering programs, and fewer time constraints placed upon them, we decided to develop and implement similar features of the distance education program into our resident orientations. Furthermore, we renamed a year-long, standing weekly resident seminar, the GSS, since it was designed to broaden and extend knowledge horizons beyond material covered in regular classes to provide opportunities for developing critical thinking, improving oral presentation, research and technical writing skills that relate directly to the Systems Engineering course work, thesis work, and to promote lifelong learning habits. Information from the GSS including problem solving styles, perception, and learning styles were later incorporated to support teaming in projects occurring later in the student’s program. Thus, while initially addressing factors of engagement and attrition, that are typically associated with distance education and the concern of program managers, we have extended lessons learned to our resident programs. Having more freedom to elaborate and refine these findings with the resident programs, we now hope to find ways to extend the on-boarding efforts back into our distance education programs.