When I think of support during my undergraduate studies, my Mum comes to mind, always there to provide mental support and administer cups of tea the night before exams. She often told me of her own university years, starting in the spring term 1940, when there were about 2000 students at Lund University (today 47000) and quite few women among them, that it was on one hand more personal with smaller student groups and on the other hand much less formalized. I know she dreaded written exams – of which there were many – but the oral exams, even though they were more personal and sometimes quite relaxed, stand out from her stories as whims of eccentric professors more than anything.
Apart from private late night tea parties at my Mum’s, as I remember it, the firm (to the point of being constrictive) structure of the programme and the goings-over after exams was what there was to be had from educators as far as support goes. Peer support was almost never formalized but something we just did as a natural part of studies.
Students and course participants these days seem to expect more in the way of support then I can remember us doing. It is truly an axiom that students always feel they are not getting enough feedback on what they are doing. In campus courses students socialize with each other and have relatively easy access to teaching staff even though there may not always be built-in regular features for this, whereas in an online course this has to be regularized. Coomey & Stephenson (2001) state that “The need for support is the most frequently mentioned feature of online learning.” and include “periodic face-to-face contact, online tutorial supervision, peer support, advice from experts, feedback on performance, support services and software tools” as desirable parts.
There are several other areas where support may be of vital importance, apart from specifically in a course. Simpson (2008) cover some of those within learning motivation. At Lund University there is an Academic Support Centre (ASC) where students can get help and support with writing, study skills, speaking and presentation skills etc. The ASC, which just recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, has seen a growing demand for its services over the past years. Study guidance is also available. Though these supporting functions may be helpful, Simpson suggests there may be a need for other kinds of input to this area and suggests theories of learning motivation of interest to open and distance learning educators. He refers to Anderson (2003) suggesting that motivation is the best predictor of student retention. More about this on: http://stephenp.net/2007/08/24/student-retention-ormond-simpson-the-open-university/.