The Engineering Institute of Technology (EIT) is a unique global institute, delivering online engineering short courses, diplomas, and degrees. Students around the world log into EIT’s synchronous online virtual campus to network with other students and lecturers in real-time. Underpinning this live online academic delivery are EIT’s Learning Support Officers (LSOs), who play a key role in helping students succeed in their studies. They become a student’s trusted advisor and provide guidance and encouragement on a student’s learning journey.
“We are the dot connectors for everything a student needs to complete a qualification or course,” said Holly Ross, an LSO based in New Zealand. Holly has been working with EIT for the last seven years, watching the institute grow from strength to strength. “I have gone from seeing our systems and procedures changing rapidly with the growth of the company and the ever-changing world of technology.”
Learning Support Officers walk alongside students every step of the way as they progress in their course. They constantly check-in with their students and iron out any problems the students may be having. If a student is falling behind, the LSO gently (and virtually) nudges the student to help them progress successfully in their studies.
How it all starts
“My role starts once a student has applied for a Professional Certificate or an Advanced Diploma course. I have specific courses that I manage, so if a student applies for one of those courses, their application comes through to me by email,” explains Thelma Bango, an LSO operating out of the South African EIT office. “I then assess the student’s application for suitability, and I either send them an acceptance email in the course or a request for more documentation to support their application.”
Once students are fully enrolled in the course and begin working to earn their qualification, their various studying styles emerge. The Learning Support Officers face the task of keeping tabs on EIT’s diverse student body. Holly says she tries to encourage students at the start of their courses to take it ‘one step at a time.’
“During the course, we check student progress. We contact students who are falling behind and send them letters stating where they need to catch up. Most would normally do their part to ensure they catch up when they get these letters,” said Isabel Sibanda, an LSO based in Zimbabwe.
For diligent students who more effortlessly rise to the challenge of their online qualifications, LSOs give sprinkles of praise to further encourage them to keep pushing forward with their course. In some cases, students are doing their first online qualification, which may seem like a daunting task, but with EIT’s LSOs, their journey becomes easier. EIT Learning Support Officers understand all too well that many students combine their studies with full-time work and they are well experienced in providing the necessary support to assist those students in staying on track.
“The beauty of our work is that we understand that our students have work, family, and life commitments, so we give them an option to ask for an extension to their assignment submission dates, within reason, of course,” said Thelma.
Across the universe
The Learning Support Officers of the Engineering Institute of Technology assist students from an assortment of countries across the globe, including but not limited to: Canada, the United States, United Kingdom, India, South Africa, New Zealand, and Australia.
“Dealing with students from different cultures, nationalities, and continents reveals just how different people are even though the common goal is the same; to attain a qualification with which one can better themselves,” Thelma said.
The Learning Support Officer also experiences news-making world events that unfold and affect their students’ lives. Sisipho Phakamisa, another of the LSOs in the southern African region, explains that she has learned perspectives from students who this year have experienced Australian wildfires, COVID-19, retrenchments, marriages, births, and everything else in between.
Moreover, the LSOs have to be acutely aware of the various time zones students are in. “I have become accustomed to the time differences between students. As big and far away that the continents and countries are, the interaction with students makes the world feel a little smaller,” Sisipho says.
When a course has run its course
Once a course is on the cusp of being completed, the LSO team at the Engineering Institute of Technology encourages students to reach that finish line. Once the students have graduated from the course, they are in charge of putting together the students’ graduation packs. The pack includes their stamped qualification they just earned.
“At the end of each course, I am tasked with the wonderful duty of graduating students from the intake by compiling and mailing out their graduation packs. There is no greater feeling than graduating your class at the end of an 18-month journey and knowing that someone has an additional qualification under their belt, all thanks to your assistance throughout the course,” said Thelma.
While the LSOs wield much power, students are also encouraged to provide feedback surveys to comment on whether or not they are satisfied with the support they are receiving. Keeping students on track is important work, and takes a balance of compassion but also firmness. The Engineering Institute of Technology’s Learning Support Officers are continually refining the processes they employ to help students achieve their dreams. With this ‘art of support,’ LSOs help students earn a career-changing and life-changing qualification.