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New Program at Highlands University Provides Free Support for Online Learners across New Mexico

Two women look at a cell phone screen together

Navigating online learning on a cell phone

July 15, 2021

Highlands University is launching a free program to provide skills to parents, teachers, and caregivers who are navigating the changing online learning landscape.

Highlands is participating in the Technology Learning Support Specialists program with other New Mexico colleges and organizations.

As part of the learning support program, instructional mentors will work with community members to assist them in accessing the online learning units, or modules, and to help them identify any skills they want to acquire to assist children at home or build on-job training. The program is funded by the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund, a grant created by CARES Act funding earmarked for stabilizing education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marthann Schulte, the program director and lead designer of the learning support program, built the online learning modules with a team of experts from the consortium, which includes other colleges in New Mexico, high schools, and organizations such as HELP New Mexico.

“The pandemic even threw someone like me for a loop,” said Schulte, who describes herself as an early adopter of online learning and has taught primarily online since 2000. “I have two school-aged children myself, and my husband is very tech savvy. When the pandemic hit, we thought ‘we’ve got this,’ but it was very different.”

Knowing that even tech-savvy people were struggling to help their kids with online learning through the pandemic, Schulte and others designed user-friendly learning modules that could be used primarily on cell phones. Not everyone has access to a computer in New Mexico, but according to the Pew Research Center, 95 percent of adults in rural areas across the U.S. have access to a cell phone.

“Completing a module is about as easy as writing a Facebook post,” said Schulte. “They’re not meant to be incredibly rigorous, but they are intended for job skills, and they are valuable since they are easily accessible and provide skills at no cost.”

The modules consist of text and video and run between 60-90 minutes. The modules are self-paced and contain a number of additional resources that learners can access. Although they are not offered for credit, learners can bundle modules to get a certificate.

“I really enjoyed the different types of resources that were within the modules,” said Crystal Arias, a community instructional mentor with the program. “For instance, for learners who prefer reading an article there are links to go to, or they can watch a TED Talk and hear stories from someone who’s implementing these techniques.”

Although the modules themselves are a useful resource, the program is designed to provide support through community instructional mentors, who will soon be offering assistance in a wide variety of locations across the state, from libraries and schools to community centers. Schulte says people seeking to further their job skills or to improve their online skills might not always know where to start.

“In education, we’ve found that whether it’s pre-K or higher ed, that extra helping hand is very necessary,” Schulte said. “It’s really the mentor piece that is an important part of this grant.”

Arias is located in Las Vegas, New Mexico, and has a background in psychology and counseling. She works directly with HELP New Mexico, an organization dedicated to providing services to under-resourced families in ten New Mexico counties, including Taos, Mora, and San Miguel.

“One of the neat things about the partnership we’ve created with HELP New Mexico is that we’re able to offer their clientele some trainings that could help them start a new career path or be introduced to higher education that will lead to enrollment at a university or college, said Arias. “The free modules can just add to their skill building.”

Saasha Lambson, who is located in Rio Rancho, is also a community instructional mentor who brings her experience of classroom teaching to the role.

“The modules provide a lot of good information even for someone like myself who’s been in education for such a long time,” said Lambson. “I was engaged with the information that was being presented.”

In addition to teaching direct, tangible skills for navigating online learning, the modules also help parents and teachers learn how to best support children in online learning.

“So many times, teachers and parents think, ‘Why isn’t Little Johnny learning? Why is he getting angry?’ It may be that he’s frustrated because his tablet isn’t working, or he needs a break,” Schulte said. “It’s not a behavioral problem, it’s just learning how your child might learn. We’re sharing information that parents and caregivers can add to their toolkits.”

For more information about the Technology Learning Support Specialists program, contact Marthann Schulte at marthannschulte@nmhu.edu.