November 22, 2019

College of Health Solutions lecturers innovate new ways to engage online learners

Being a successful student is about more than just passing classes. It’s about taking advantage of personal and professional development opportunities that prepare you to secure a fulfilling career and life.

Such opportunities abound for Arizona State University’s on-ground students, with various clubs and organizations recruiting on campus malls and meeting in university buildings every day. But its roughly 30,000 online students can feel woefully left out in that space.

Taking ASU’s charter of inclusion to heart, College of Health Solutions lecturers Jordan Miller and Kasondra McCracken sought to remedy that. Over the past few years as co-advisors to the Health Education and Health Promotion Student Organization (HEHPSO), Miller and McCracken have implemented a number of changes, such as switching from in-person to Zoom meetings, that make it easier for online students to participate and feel engaged with the group.

Earlier this month, the pair won an ASU Committee for Campus Inclusion Catalyst Award for their efforts.

“Jordan and Kas are health education and health promotion professionals whose leadership, innovation, initiative and ingenuity created a student organization and program with national and global ‘virtual’ outreach,” said College of Health Solutions senior lecturer Shawn Hrncir, who nominated them for the award.

“Leading by example, their efforts to engage ASU students locally, nationally and at a global level will inspire other student organizations with aspirations to contribute meaningfully to the health and well-being of our global society.”

Both Miller and McCracken teach courses in the health education and health promotion degree track, and many of their students are online students who juggle school with kids and jobs. As a former online student herself, Miller can relate to their challenges.

“I was also a working parent, like so many of our students are,” she said. “I understood a lot from that about how to help online learners manage their time and how to structure a course so that they can balance the demands of online learning with their other responsibilities.”

HEHPSO’s mission has always been to help students grow professionally through community involvement, with a focus on diversity and inclusion. So not only does the group welcome online students, it’s also open to students of any major who are interested in health and wellness.

“We really wanted to have that broad definition of diversity and inclusion,” McCracken said.

group photo of student club in an urban garden

ASU College of Health Solutions lecturers Jordan Miller (back row, fourth from left) and Kasondra McCracken (back row, third from right) during a Health Education and Health Promotion Student Organization community gardening event last year that was livestreamed on Facebook. Photo courtesy Jordan Miller.

In addition to transitioning from in-person to Zoom meetings, they also switched the timing of the meetings to noon so that working parents could drop in on their lunch hour. And services and activities that used to be available only to local students who could attend in person are being brought online in creative ways.

Last year, members of HEHPSO — or, as Miller and McCracken sometimes call them, “Hepsters” – from all across the country planned and remotely participated in a “Week of Giving,” where they were encouraged to engage in service locally wherever they lived, then share their experiences with each other online.

They did the same thing for a community gardening event held in Phoenix, except they livestreamed it on Facebook so remote members could watch, listen and comment in real time.

“Even though some of them weren't on-ground for that event, they still got to contribute and experience it in their own way, which is pretty cool,” McCracken said.

She and Miller went a step further when they introduced “Mindful Mondays,” an offshoot of HEHPSO that meets online every Monday evening to help students cope with stress and anxiety. It usually begins with an overview of some basic stress management skills before being opened up for conversation and sharing, then finishes up with a brief guided meditation exercise.

“Some students, especially online students, have reported that connecting with others in the program really gives them a sense of support and a sense of community that helps to buoy them when things can be a little bit of a challenge for them,” Miller said.

Rachel Thomas, a HEHPSO member and ASU nutrition undergrad living in Indiana confirmed that.

“The reason I love HEHPSO is because I have the opportunity to meet so many wonderful people that are as passionate about health as I am,” Thomas said. “Even though I am out-of-state and an online student, I still feel included within the HEHPSO community and will definitely continue to participate until I graduate.”

This year, Miller and McCracken plan to branch out even further, assisting students in virtually attending conferences and growing HEHPSO’s social media presence. Currently, they are overseeing a flu vaccination awareness campaign in which members share their “flu shot selfies.”

Over spring break, the duo will be participating in a health advocacy study abroad trip to the Dominican Republic as part of ASU’s Global Intensive Experiences. They’re looking forward to finally meeting several HEHPSO members who will also be attending in person.

“We are always looking for new ways to help plug students into those kinds of opportunities because landing a great job when you graduate is more than your transcript,” Miller said. “It's really about the experiences you've had that helped you grow.”

Top photo courtesy Pixabay