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Programming from a Distance – A Community of Practice Conversation

Facilitated by Dr. Carl T. Krieger, Director of Residential Education for Student Life - March 19, 2020

Many Purdue University student programs have halted because of COVID-19. Staff in Student Life programming must rethink and retool programs for an online presence. 

This is a summary of the Programming from a Distance WebEx discussion to answer the questions listed below and offer support, while forming a community of practice in the current new paradigm. 

We ask:

  • How do we engage our students online when our programs were created for a residential campus? 
  • How close can we come to reaching the original desired outcomes of our programs?
  • What resources are available to help? 
  • What are others doing?

The conversation centered around four topic areas:

  • Transactional Distance
  • Structure
  • Dialogue
  • Learner Autonomy

How is Online Different?

Moore’s Transactional Distance Theory
Transactional distance is being neither present nor absent. A student’s transactional distance moves on a continuum, growing stronger or weaker based upon the instructional design decisions made by the teacher.​

For optimal learning, a student must feel there is little transactional distance between themselves and their teacher or mentor. A student needs to feel close to the person establishing their programs or their instructor because their learning decreases the further they feel from that person. Moore states that there are three legs of the connection stool: structure, dialogue and learner autonomy. Think about engaging students online in relation to these three concepts.  

Structure​—Learning/Program Outcomes and Timelines
Moore states that learning should not be too structured or rigid. Students need some ownership in their learning. They need some ability to create their own experience, but their experience should not be laissez-faire, with information “all over the place” where they have to do all the work to put all the pieces together. The program creators and instructors’ job is to ensure that students see some structure in what is provided.

Learning/Program Outcomes​

  • Have you identified outcomes for your program?​
  • How do your outcomes take into account that students are not there in person?​
  • Does your program have to change?​

Meet with colleagues and ask, “What makes this student's experience with a program different in person compared to online? Is it possible to obtain desired outcomes when students are in their own space and not on campus? These questions lead to the last one, “Does your program have to change?”

Examples of Online Programming

SAO Fun Online Activities

Chelsea Harris, assistant director for programs, Student Activities and Organizations (SAO), highlighted some of the fun virtual activities planned for the remaining weeks of the 2020 spring semester: magic shows, Trivia Tuesdays, a contortionist, bingo, TikTok challenge, talent show and open mic night. 

Online Spring Civic Series
Purdue’s Civic Engagement and Leadership Development Initiative is offering a spring series with web meeting “hangouts” regarding how to be a good citizen—from home—during this unprecedented time in the world. The series will also answer questions regarding the census and help students understand the importance of filling out the census. The series will answer questions about voting, and conduct a cooking demonstration from the ACE Campus Food Pantry.

Dialogue—Technology and Resources
When creating an online program, reduce the transactional distance by offering students opportunities to engage with the presenter and one another.


  1. Have you set up training for your staff on the technology you are going to use?​
  2. Have you used the technology yourself & conducted a “test run” for your staff?​
  3. Are you planning for the use of technology that surpasses the skills of anyone on your staff?​
  4. How are you “talking” to your students?​


  1. Information dissemination and programming are two different things. Make a choice, not a default.​ Posts on the internet or posting a slide deck is not a presentation. It is information dissemination. If that is what you want, that is fine, but make sure it is a choice and not your default.
  2. Share resources with your students and your colleagues.

Learner Autonomy​—Programming and Advertising


  1. Remember why student affairs is a field.​ Student affairs was created because students need support and help in developing as people. Research shows that if we help them, they feel more connected to the community of the institution and to the institution itself. They are connected to each other in residence halls or through student organizations such as fraternities and sororities. Even though students have left the campus, our goal is still to make them feel connected to Purdue. This will increase their likelihood of taking the autonomous choice to engage in our programming.
  2. Reflect upon the difference between programming, educating and support​; these are three different things at various times. They can be different depending upon the type of programming offered.
  3. Have you had a discussion about managing expectations?​ We need to realize that our programs are not going to be perfect when they go online. And that is okay, because we are all in a brave new world as we move forward.


  1. How are you getting the word out?​
    Now is the time to start using social media in new and inventive ways because our students are at home engaging on Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. If you have not used social media as tool for promotion in the past, you definitely need to be doing that now
  2. How can Student Life help?​ Submit your programming information to Stephanie Knight who is gathering ideas and events and sharing them through our Virtual Student Life page.   

Ideas to Engage Students and Promote Programs and Further Teaching

Student Activities and Organizations

  • Students submit videos for a “YouTube Video of the Day.”
  • Daily “Snacks and Chats” infographic written by students that includes a motivational tip, their favorite snack, favorite TV show, a joke and a study tip, for example.
  • Virtual Study Lounge where students log in and see one another studying and discuss questions if need be.
  • The goal is to make the social media posts from students, not just from staff.


Through video, RecWell will be offering fitness classes such as yoga and strength training that students can do at home. Sr. Assistant Director of Wellness Tammy Loew and her team are conducting online wellness talks on topics such as “How to Create a Schedule from Home” and “Mindfulness.” Cooking demonstrations are planned. The Goosechase app makes it easy to organize and run a scavenger hunt for a large number of people. Students can report, take a picture or create a video of themselves engaging with the materials that are posted.

Civic Engagement and Leadership Development Initiative

The Civic Engagement and Leadership Development Initiative is developing ways to create virtual spaces to serve students who regularly use their office as a center where they kick back and have good conversations about things that matter. The virtual space will creat a check in with students to learn how they are doing and talk about what’s on their minds.

To help build communities in the classroom, films may be assigned that can be accessed on Netflix and other streaming services to substitute for attending speaker presentations and other in-person events that had been planned. The films can be watched in real time together so students can chat about the film. Netflix Party is a platform that makes this possible.

Celebrating Students and Colleagues at the End of the Semester
Start now thinking about how to say good-bye and honor students at the end of the semester. Also, how to recognize colleagues who may leaving after the spring 2020 semester? Contact Stephanie Knight who is gathering ideas.

Steps to Leaps Needed Now More than Ever
It is essential to tie programming to the five pillars of Steps to Leaps to continue the momentum of the Steps to Leaps program in a time when students very much need our support. We must continually remind students to tap into the resources offered through Steps to Leaps and beyond. The hard work of creating the Steps to Leaps initiative in the past year, will pay off dividends now in helping students with their well-being. 

Questions? Contact

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