Online experiences: Students speak!

Last week, I requested readers to forward a short survey to students who had taken online classes.  I’m currently creating a professional development workshop for online instruction and wanted to include a student perspective to better guide the discussion.  After about 20 student responses, here are some of the major take-aways.

1.  Interaction matters.  Throughout the student responses it was clear that students want more than online correspondence courses.  They want to interact with their peers and with their instructors.  While the importance of classroom interaction was conveyed in numerous comments, I think Susan’s response says it the best.

What I dislike about online courses is you lose that teacher-student interaction. Because your teachers do not physically know who you are and see you each day, it is less likely that you will build a relationship with them. This makes it hard for you to know what the teacher is expecting, and also less likely for you to enjoy the class. Knowing that the teacher knows who you are and cares about your success, makes taking the course more fun and more motivating for you to do well.

While it can be challenging to foster student-instructor interaction in some online classes, it was clear that students linked this type of interaction to their academic success.

2.  Clear expectations are critical.  In online classes, students need guidance in completing assignments and meeting course requirements.  In the surveys, students discussed floundering academically because they didn’t always understand what was expected of them.  The students didn’t mind high standards as long as the expectations were clearly outlined for them.  Here, Tammy discusses her score on a test in an online science class.

One of the at-home tests was my lowest grade because the teacher took off a significant amount of points for the way I did several problems. However, there were no specific directions that we had to do the problems the way she preferred – so I did them my way – with correct answers and work. I contacted her via e-mail and she shot me down by saying I should have known to do them the way she preferred.

Tammy’s situation could probably have been avoided if the instructor had given clear expectations that she wanted the problems completed using a certain technique.  Online instructors should leave little to guess work.  Structure lessons clearly and coherently and make your expectations explicit.

3.  The brain receives information through multiple channels.  Good online instructors use more than one.  Several students complained about online instructors who posted Powerpoint slides without narration as the sole form of instruction.  Others championed instructors who employed videos, podcasts and simulations to help students learn.  Here, Stephanie celebrates the work of one of her online instructors.

“My professor uploaded podcasts each week that she had made herself, each one covering the new topic and giving multiple examples of each. We then had to complete an assignment that reviewed the new topic. She fully utilized every aspect of the course site, including the grading area, discussion board, and group chats. My professor’s activities and engaging lectures made studying the subject interesting and exciting.”

The online classroom environment offers instructors the ability to pull in a variety of content and to incorporate multiple modes of instruction.  By using multiple modes of instruction, interaction and assessment, the instructor helped make the content more interesting and helped to motivate the student.

While these informal surveys may not rise to the level of hardcore empirical data, they can help online instructors recognize what students really want (and need) out of their online classes.

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