Online Parent Course

New online course helps parents navigate first-year transition.

New online course helps parents navigate first-year transition. 

Telephone call on a Sunday night–parent in upstate New York; student in a residence hall at Lewis & Clark.

Parent: How are classes going, son?

Son: They’re tough, but they’re good, they’re good.

Parent: Well, you know we’ve talked about this. It’s costing your mother and me quite a bit to send you to Lewis & Clark. I just want to remind you … if you don’t earn a 3.0 this year, we’re going to need to have you transfer somewhere back here in-state.

Son: You’ve said that before. You don’t understand how hard this transition is. Nationally, grade point average drops the first year–I think it might even be a whole point.

Parent: When I went to school, my grades were fine that first year.

Son: Well, where did you go to school?

Parent: I went to NYU … you know that.

Son: Makes some sense now. If you were to come to Lewis & Clark you might understand it’s a little more difficult.

If you’ve been the parent of a first-year student, this exchange may sound familiar. Or if you participated in Lewis & Clark’s new online parent course last fall, you may recognize it as one of the role-plays between Celestino Limas, dean of students and chief diversity officer, and Shane Rivera, a recent graduate who was then president of the Associated Students of Lewis & Clark and a campus living advisor in Copeland residence hall.

Parents, like their sons and daughters, encounter a range of new ideas, issues, and emotions during the first-year transition. And since a full 80 percent of Lewis & Clark’s undergraduates hail from outside Oregon, many parents won’t see their first-year students on a regular basis throughout the school year. These parents tend to get a satellite introduction to the college itself.

Last summer, Limas set out to make a difference for these parents–and, by extension, their students. He brainstormed with students, faculty, and staff about ways to familiarize parents of new students with the Lewis & Clark experience. He floated the idea of a no-cost online parent course.

“We wanted to help create a partnership between parents and the college,” says Limas. “We wanted to bring parents in, not push them away or hold them at arm’s length.”

He announced the course’s availability during New Student Orientation and received an enthusiastic response–nearly 250 parents signed up.

‘Call-In Show’ Format

The course is titled “Your Student and You: Turning Change Into Growth During the First Six Months of College.” Capitalizing on distance-learning technology, the course offers role-plays and guest speakers, course materials, and plenty of opportunities for interaction.

“It’s like a call-in radio show with an outline,” explains Limas.

The course is taught completely online using Blackboard, a Web-based course delivery system. Once every other week, parents log in to view lecture materials while listening to audio via the college’s online radio station, KLC. Parents can call, e-mail, send instant messages via text or video, or post their questions in real time using Blackboard. They can access the course anywhere there is a computer with an Internet connection. For those who miss the live version, course materials are available almost immediately as podcasts.

But perhaps the freshest element of the course is its inclusion of an actual student. For this first iteration, that student was Shane Rivera. As a “regular” on the program, he engaged in various role-plays with Limas and addressed parents’ questions.

“Shane functioned as a translator,” says Limas, “since he was presenting to parents who went to college in an era before smart phones, e-mail, and text messaging. He helped all of us better understand what it’s like to be a student in today’s world.”

Rivera, who majored in psychology, says he was delighted to help. “I wanted to provide a different perspective for parents to help them with this transition,” he says. “I also viewed it as a chance to build community beyond the people on campus.”

Parents appreciated the back-and-forth between Limas and Rivera. “It was great–I picked up so much valuable information,” says Mara Cohn, a parent from El Paso, Texas. “Every time I talked with my son, I tried to remember things from the course.”

Varied Topics

Throughout the fall semester, the course tackles a range of topics, including campus resources, student privacy rights and confidentiality, supporting your student academically, mental health and your student, student development theory, and getting to know your “new” student.

“I was really interested in the intellectual and ethical development of young adults during the college years,” says Sara Castle del Rio, a parent from Hamilton, Massachusetts. “There’s all this literature about early childhood development, but we tend not to think about these development stages continuing.” 

One of the most popular programs is called “Parent v. Mother/Father.” It is designed to help parents shift from a decision-making role (as parents) to a mentoring role (as mothers and fathers). “The program helped me consider just listening as an initial response, rather than rushing in with an immediate solution,” says Christopher Alexander, a parent from Flagstaff, Arizona. I also try to remember Shane’s advice: ‘Listen, listen, listen … and then listen some more.’”

Sequel Planned

The inaugural online parent course proved so popular that many parents expressed interest in continuing the course as their students begin their sophomore year. Limas is more than happy to oblige–especially since each year of the four-year college experience is quite different. “As long as there is demand, we will develop it for each class year.”