Book by: Anita Crawley
Review by: Lydia Cross
Director, Graduate Academic Services Center
College of Education
Georgia Southern University

With the proliferation of personal computers and the ability to access information quickly and efficiently, online higher education in the United States has expanded considerably in the last two decades. This expansion into online education has been at all levels of higher education: private and public institutions and for-profit and non-profit institutions. With this expanding population of online students, author Anita Crawley describes that “services that support online learners are insufficiently funded” (p. XV) and as such leads to an environment in which a student may have difficulty navigating their program and being successful. As college completion becomes a critical topic of discussion at institutions, the institutions themselves must fund and lay the groundwork for support services to help online students progress through their programs and graduate. In many ways, online students have become a lost population and it is more difficult to connect virtually, and it is even more difficult to find means of providing appropriate support services.         

The structure of this book is well organized and the author provides a thorough look at online education and the support services needed to better assist online learners. Crawley has an extensive background in working with online learners and provides many tried and true examples from her research. The first few chapters provide an overview of the definitions of online education, demographics of online learners, and barriers that prohibit progression and graduation in the online environment. These chapters provide a framework of understanding for advisors and administrators as to the types of students that pursue online learning and it is essential to understand online students before institutions can appropriately plan support services.  Her chapter on supporting online students with disabilities is spot-on and is an area that needs greater attention from all institutions to provide better services. 

The middle chapters of the book provide a plethora of resources, suggestions and examples of services for online students. These chapters provide great depth and examples that are applicable across any type of institution that has online learners. The final chapters of the book are geared toward assessment and program evaluation of how institutions currently assist and provide services to online learners.  Embedded within each chapter are research-based strategies and statistics, which provide the reader knowledge that the practices adopted from the book are founded from the research.

Overall, this is a comprehensive guide to supporting online students and one that has been sorely needed. This book is an excellent guide for advisors and administrators who work with online students and should be required reading for anyone who works with online students. Universities have done an excellent job at providing services and resources to campus based students, but now is the time that support infrastructures should be considered for online students. The key to providing these services is to use Crawley’s guide in first learning about online students, using her resources to plan for the gaps in services, but then to finally assess what advisors are doing, and ensuring that what has been created truly meets the needs of online learners.     

Supporting Online Students: A Guide to Planning, Implementing and Evaluating Services.  (2012). Book by Anita Crawley. Review by Lydia Cross, Wiley. 288 pp., $40.00, (Hardback), ISBN #978-1-118-07654-5

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